FILM, VIDEO, INTERNET AND DIGITAL PRODUCTION IN WESTERN CANADA
Sara Canning braves the elements in Danishka Esterhazy’s
BLACK FIELD Q+A with Writer-Director DAVID TWOHY Screenwriter Gary Fisher cllimbs HUNGRY HILLS Back to our Roots with the NFB’s THIS LAND and FINDING FARLEY
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THE 24th ANNUAL VANCOUVER FILM & TV FORUM Sept. 29 - Oct. 2
PLUS NEW FILMMAKERS’ DAY Oct. 3, 2009
THE SUBJECTS OF CHANGE...Let’s talk SESSION HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE: CHARLIE KAUFMAN: HIS PROCESS
Charlie Kaufman is an Academy Award, BAFTA, and Independent Spirit Award-winning US screenwriter, producer and director. His screenwriting credits include Synecdoche, New York, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Human Nature and Being John Malkovich. Kaufman made his directorial debut in 2008 with Synecdoche, New York that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature. In 2004, Time Magazine identified him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and was ranked #100 in Premiere's 2003 annual Power 100 List. He was the only writer on the list. Kaufman’s unique voice, unmistakable talent, plus his championing of the reluctant protagonist, has launched him into the minds of film fans everywhere. This session will focus on Charlie’s views and insights on anything and everything about his particular writing process.
The creative documentary is the crown jewel of the non-fiction world – passionate, cutting edge, filmmaker-driven, in-depth, up close and personal… The 2009 Forum, in collaboration with Knowledge Network is proud to support this essential format by pre-selecting six projects for live presentation to an international panel of commissioning editors. Each producer/filmmaker team has 20 minutes in the hot seat to pitch their film plus an opportunity to source financing for their documentary project.
LOL – COMEDY RULES Writing for comedy is a very specific skill… and not an easy one. What seems like a straightforward task, i.e. making people laugh, is actually an intricate and idiosyncratic mix of tension, conflict, recall, reference, timing, exaggeration, believability, sympathy, empathy, juxtaposition, satire and parody mixed with context, personality and persuasion. Easy, eh? A comedic writer needs practice and patience to go from the printed page to laugh-out-loud funny. Hear from Emmy Award-winning TV writers about some rules for scripting comedy and developing funny characters.
THE SUBJECTS OF CHANGE Scripted entertainment models have changed dramatically under the influence of new platforms, stronger specialty networks, audience fragmentation, altered business plans, VOD streaming, Netflix, iTunes, YouTube, etc. New kinds of media projects are grabbing audiences across all genres. A film producer today needs to embrace a radical revolution in the understanding of storytelling and revenue streams. This will require a new set of imaginative and business tools to meet that challenge. Our opening session is all about the subjects of change and provides a wake-up call to producers to envision the potential of a single concept across a wide range of platforms. Drop in and get informed.
R.I.P. CONVENTIONAL TV Some claim that the traditional model for creating content, financing production and broadcast dissemination may never be the same. For producers, this begs the questions: what type of content will live and die in the next era of broadcast platforms? Will there be new streams of revenue to replace the dried-up markets – and if so, how soon? Will online “broadcasting” afford opportunities for a greater diversity of shows to find audiences, and vice versa? Hear from trendsetters, stakeholders, content creators and innovators about what will be coming down the pipeline.
REALITY DOESN’T BITE: ELEMENTS OF A TOP RATED SERIES One-offs are great but it can be a tough way to make a living. Enter the docudrama. Non-fiction television has reached new viewers and unprecedented ratings in recent TV seasons due in great part to the hit docudramas created by Thom Beers. Beers struck gold with two series that profile the high stakes adventures of fishermen and truck drivers in the far north. The elements that make these series so engaging are not that far off from scripted dramas, with story lines featuring jeopardy, waywardness, insurrection and justice served. Thom will share his insights, pitching tips, lessons learned and war stories from the field in this not-to-be-missed session.
BEST PRACTICES IN DOC GENRES This unique panel features acclaimed directors from notable and diverse projects who have worked in the environmental, investigative, socio-political, humanist, historical and music genres. So let’s ask them: What are the pros and cons of working in the various doc genres? What are some of the creative strategies used to move projects forward through development, financing and, finally, capturing an audience on the small or big screen? Our accomplished filmmakers will relate their lessons learned from the front lines of creative documentary production.
ROUNDTABLES WITH COMMISSIONING EDITORS Your chance to network, build relationships, gain market intelligence and personal feedback from documentary commissioning editors.
PLUS: Producing for Producers Speed Dating Sessions Sales Forecast ■
Frame By Frame ■ Telefilm Canada Tête-à-tête Sessions ■ Keeping Dramas Fresh ■ Co-Ventures in TV Land ■ Doc Champions ■ Art of the Biography ■ Screening of We Live in Public ■ 21st Century Doc Distribution Strategies ■ The Little Medium That Could ■ Success Stories ■ Storytelling with a Camera ■
FULL PROGRAM DETAILS AVAILABLE AT WWW.VIFF.ORG/FORUM VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM CENTRE 1181 SEYMOUR STREET, VANCOUVER, BC V6B 3M7 TEL: 604.685.3547 FAX: 604.688.8221 EMAIL: FORUM@VIFF.ORG
9/1/2009 3:29:55 PM
16 FINDING THIS LAND The National Film Board is celebrating its 70th anniversary by going back to its roots with two western Canadian films that take stories about Canada to Canadians. BC’s This Land is the story of the people who protect Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic while Alberta’s Finding Farley follows a family’s trek across Canada to rediscover the places that Farley Mowat made famous through his books.
20 FIELD OF DREAMS Danishka Esterhazy knew that she wanted to shoot her first feature, Black Field, in a bleak environment that mirrored 19th Century Manitoba. She found it on property owned by a Winnipeg-based production company. It was as bleak as expected with the set hit by several different kinds of weather. The only real problem came with the arrival of spring greenery.
BITS AND BYTES
10 BEGINNINGS 12 BEHIND THE SCENES 14 QUESTION AND ANSWER 15 EXPERT WITNESS 29 LEGAL BRIEFS 30 FINAL EDIT
24 STAYING HUNGRY Screenwriter Gary Fisher looks back at the 16 years it took him to get George Ryga’s novel Hungry Hills to the screen including the day he optioned the rights, the day he realized that his life would be changed forever and the day he and director Rob King and their partners finally got the film financed.
ON THE COVER: SARA CANNING AND FERRON GUERREIRO AS MAGGIE AND ROSE MCGREGOR IN BLACKFIELD; PHOTO BY REBECCA SANDULAK ABOVE: SARA CANNING AS MAGGIE MCGREGOR IN BLACK FIELD; PHOTO BY REBECCA SANDULAK REEL WEST MAGAZINE IS A WHOLLY OWNED ENTERPRISE OF REEL WEST PRODUCTIONS INC. IT EXISTS AND IS MANAGED TO PROVIDE PUBLICITY AND ADVERTISING THAT SUPPORTS THE GROWTH OF THE WESTERN CANADIAN MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY. EXECUTIVE PUBLISHER: SANDY P. FLANAGAN EXECUTIVE EDITOR: IAN CADDELL. PUBLISHER: RON HARVEY ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER: PAUL BARTLETT SALES: RANDY HOLMES. CREATIVE DIRECTOR: ANDREW VON ROSEN. ART DIRECTOR: LINDSEY ATAYA. PHOTO EDITOR: PHILLIP CHIN. REEL WEST MAGAZINE IS PUBLISHED SIX TIMES PER YEAR. SUBSCRIPTIONS CANADA/US. $35.00 PER YEAR (PLUS $10.00 POSTAGE TO USA). REEL WEST DIGEST, THE DIRECTORY FOR WESTERN CANADA’S FILM, VIDEO AND TELEVISION INDUSTRY, IS PUBLISHED ANNUALLY. SUBSCRIPTION $35.00 PER YEAR (PLUS $10.00 POSTAGE TO US). BOTH PUBLICATIONS $60.00 (PLUS $10.00 POSTAGE TO USA) PRICES INCLUDE GST. COPYRIGHT 2009 REEL WEST PRODUCTIONS INC. SECOND CLASS MAIL. REGISTRATION NO. 0584002. ISSN 0831-5388. G.S.T. # R104445218. REEL WEST PRODUCTIONS INC. 101 - 5512 HASTINGS STREET, BURNABY, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA, V5B 1R3. PHONE (604) 451-7335 TOLL FREE: 1-888-291-7335 FAX: (604) 451-7305 EMAIL: INFO@REELWEST.COM URL: WWW.REELWEST.COM. VOLUME 24, ISSUE 5. PRINTED IN CANADA. CANADIAN MAIL PUBLICATION SALES AGREEMENT NUMBER: 40006834. TO SUBSCRIBE CALL 1-888-291-7335 OR VISIT OUR WEBSITE AT WWW.REELWEST.COM. REEL WEST WELCOMES FEEDBACK FROM OUR READERS, VIA EMAIL AT EDITORIAL@REELWEST.COM OR BY FAX AT 604-451-7305. ALL CORRESPONDENCE MUST INCLUDE YOUR NAME, ADDRESS, AND DAYTIME TELEPHONE NUMBER.
REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
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What’s coming. What’s shooting. What’s wrapped.
Vanessa Hudgens stars in Sucker Punch, due to start filming in Vancouver this fall
Neeson Heads Up Film Version of A Team If you can’t remember more than two actors who starred in TV’s The A-Team (George Peppard, Mr. T) you will do at least as well when it comes to having heard of the stars of the movie version, which begins principal photography this month (September) in Vancouver. The ﬁlm stars Liam Neeson and The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper. Also here in September are America’s sweethearts, High School Musical stars Vanessa Hudgens and Zach Efron. Hudgens is here for Zack Snyder’s latest, Sucker Punch while Efron is the star of The Life and Death of Charlie St. Cloud. The A-Team has ﬁlm royalty Ridley Scott and brother Tony Scott on its producers list along with Jules Daley and Iain Smith. The
co-producers are Ross Fanger and Lee Cleary and the director is Joe Carnahan while Mauro Fiore is the DOP, Charles Wood is the production designer, Stewart Bethune is the production manager, Jena Niquidet is the production coordinator and Ann Goobie is the location manager. The special eﬀects coordinator is Mike Vezina. The Life and Death of Charlie St. Cloud sees Efron playing a man who claims to be able to see his dead brother. The ﬁlm co-stars Amanda Crew and was executive produced by Michael Fottrell. It has Burr Steers directing, Enrique Chediak as the DOP, Ida Random as the production designer, Casey Grant as the production manager, Bliss McDonald as the production coordinator and
Kirk Johns as the location manager. It will be here until late October. Snyder is directing Sucker Punch and sharing producer credits with Deborah Snyder. Wesley Collier is the executive producer while Jim Rowe is the line producer, Larry Fong is the DOP, Rick Carter is the production designer, Brendan Ferguson is the production manager, Nicole Oguchi is the production coordinator, Hans Dayal is the location manager and Joel Whist is the special eﬀects coordinator. The ﬁlm tells the story of a girl who clings to an alternate reality after being sent to a mental institution. In addition to Hudgens it stars Carla Gugino, Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone and Jamie Chung. Steve Zahn stars in Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the story of one boy’s
tough year at middle school. Based on Brad Simpson’s best seller of the same name it has Simpson and Nina Jacobson producing, Ethan Smith as co-producer, Thor Freudenthal directing, Brent Thomas as production designer, Warren Carr as production manager, Deanna Kittson as production coordinator, Steve Sach as location manager and Tony Lazarowich as special eﬀects coordinator. The television ﬁlm Seven Deadly Sins has Barbara Lieberman as executive producer and Ted Bauman as executive producer/producer. The director is Jeﬀ Renfroe, the DOP is Mathias Herndl, the production designer is Phil Schmidt, the production manager is Paul Rayman, the production coordinator is Sarah Harris and the location manager is Kathleen Gilbert. Here in August was the pilot Prepped: New Kid. It had Paul Dini and Bill O’Dowd as executive producers, Peter Lhotka producing, Terry McDonough directing, Philip Linzey as DOP, Matthew Budgeon as production designer, Jim O’Grady as production manager, Rhonda Legge as production coordinator and Sheri Mayervich as location manager. Arriving in August and staying until January is the series V, a “re-imagining” of the show about an alien invasion. It has Scott Peters, Jeﬀ Bell, Steve Pearlman and Kathy Gilroy as executive producers, Stephen Jackson as the DOP, Eric Fraser as the production designer, Dennis Swartman as the production manager, Clark Candy as the production coordinator, Michael Gazetas and Phil Pacaud as the location managers and Phil Jones as the special eﬀects coordinator.
REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
9/2/2009 1:04:52 PM
BITS AND BYTES
APTN Nutz about Health The pilot for an APTN series about a former professional hockey player, who tries to get his life back on track when he inherits a juice bar, was in production in Vancouver in August. Health Nutz stars Kevin Loring as a player whose life goes into a downward spiral after he accidentally injures himself at the age of 22. A decade later, he has squandered away his insurance money and is a jobless alcoholic gambler. He discovers that his estranged father has left him the successful Health Nutz Juice bar and the patent to a lucrative energy drink. In order to keep it he has to get sober. The show’s executive producer Jason Friesen says he had first-hand experience with natural health industry employees and clientele while living in Toronto a few years ago. “Characters who came to the juice bar looking for a quick fix kept coming back for more than just a glass of juice or a bottle of vitamins,” he says. “They came back for the sense of community the little juice bar offered. Sharing personal fears and hopes brought out their unique personalities and idiosyncrasies which is what inspired me to write Health Nutz.” In addition to Loring the cast includes Lucie Guest, Ali Liebert, Chris Gauthier, Chad Krowchuk, Chief Byron-Moon, David Hamilton Lyle, Cyler Point, Sam Bob, Jim Shield, Ken Lawson and Laura Mennell. The show was written and created by Friesen and is produced by Friesen and Dasha Dana Novak. The pilot was directed by Tony Dean Smith with Pieter Stathis as DOP, Larisa Andrews as line producer and Lori Lozinski as the production coordinator. Cheaters Could Prosper A Dallas-based production company has moved to Vancouver to work on a number of projects including a syndicated reality series about cheating spouses. According to a spokesperson, Bobby Goldstein Productions has come to Vancouver to develop series and to continue the distribution and licensing of the reality show Cheaters. The spokesperson said that Cheaters has been a hit since it was first syndicated in 2000. He said the show has been “helping suspicious partners enlist hidden camera crews to catch their significant others in the act, since it began airing.” The weekly show documents people who are suspected of cheat-
REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
ing on their loved ones. The show is hosted by Joey Greco and is, according to the spokesperson, one of the highest rated syndicated shows on television. “We’ve had a great track record and we have great people working for us and we would like to align with people in Canada to expand and bring a level of creativity and unique programming concepts to be produced here,” said Bobby Goldstein. The list of shows in development includes Divorce Party which Goldstein describes as an “oﬀ-beat quasireality TV show and a dissertation on divorce.” He said it would provide the viewing audience an opportunity to decide who’s at fault in the breakup of a marriage.
NASA Gets Emmy The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has won an Emmy. The award was presented at the Engineering Awards held in late August in Los Angeles. Robin Mesger, a spokesperson for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, said the Philo T. Farnsworth Award was awarded to NASA to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the technological innovations that made possible the July 20, 1969 broadcast from the lunar surface by the crew of Apollo 11. She said the Farnsworth Award honors “an agency, company or institution whose contributions over a long period of time have significantly affected the state of television technology and engineering.” Four other Engineering Awards were presented at the ceremony. Mesger said each is presented for engineering developments that are “such an improvement on existing methods or so innovative in nature that they affect the transmission, recording or reception of television.” This year’s winners included The Henson Digital Puppetry Studio, the Fujinon Precision Focus Assist (Fujinon, Inc. and NHK), Litepanels LED lighting products (Litepanels, Inc.) and Dolby DP600 Program Optimizer (Dolby Laboratories, Inc.) In addition to the awards an Engineering Plaque was awarded to Grip Trix Electric Motorized Camera Dolly for achievements “that exhibit a high level of engineering and are important to the progress of the industry.” Mesger said the plaque is not a “consolation” prize, but “a positive recognition of engineering achievements on a different level of technology and industry importance than the Emmy.” The awards are overseen by the Academy’s Technology and Convergence Committee.
Rainmaker Game Wins Kudos Vancouver-based Rainmaker Entertainment recently announced that it created and produced the game trailer for Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction, which has won support from several websites and a leading games critics group. Spokesperson Rita Cahill said the game was named ‘Best of E3 360 Game’ by 1up.com, ‘Best Xbox 360 Game’ by GameFocus.ca, ‘Best Xbox 360 Title’ by Goonline.com, ‘Best of PC E3 2009 Awards’ by IGN.com and was nominated for ‘Best of Show’ and ‘Best Action/Adventure Game’ by the Game Critics Awards. Cahill said the fifth game in the Splinter Cell series is a “tentpole” franchise for game giant Ubisoft, the Paris headquartered publisher and developer. She said the series, an action stealth game, is based on the Tom Clancy novels and lead character Sam Fisher. She said the trailer garnered a 9.2 rating on GameTrailer.com. “We approached this project as storytellers,” said Rainmaker president Catherine Winder. “When the Splinter Cell: Conviction development team at Ubisoft Montreal came to us and wanted a ‘wow’ factor for this trailer, we totally immersed ourselves in the game and developed the overall concept and script. We then edited together various footage with character tests, and when we pitched the concept and reel, Ubisoft liked what they saw and entrusted us with one of their highest selling games.” Cahill said Rainmaker was responsible for concept and design, art direction and storyboarding. “Primary characters were provided by Ubisoft. Motion capture was done at Rainmaker’s motion capture stage. The Rainmaker team rebuilt all the geometry and created the shading, textures, rigging and facial movements for the primary characters. All the sets and secondary and background characters, as well as all the animation, lighting, visual effects and compositing, were done by Rainmaker.” Cahill said concept and creative took three months and production five months.
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Tyranny Rewritten Two years after it hit #1 on the American Film Institute’s list of required reading for its incoming screenwriting students, Vancouver ﬁlmmaker Ric Beairsto has completed a rewrite of his 1997 book The Tyranny of Story: Audience Expectations and the Short Screenplay. Beairsto says he decided to rewrite it after an AFI student called him looking for the book, which had been out of print for several years. “My intent was to expand the book and then leave it behind forever by writing what I hope will be the deﬁnitive title on short form screenwriting. At the risk of hubris, I don’t believe any of the other books on short screenplay writing have grasped the essential diﬀerence between writing feature-length vs. short screenplays; how the visual nature of the medium calls for a particular kind of story, if a short screenplay, and ultimately a short production, is likely to realize its full potential.” Beairsto came up with the idea for the book while teaching screenwriting at Vancouver Film School. He says he wanted to ﬁll a void in the availability of books on short screenplays. Beairsto is currently the producer, writer and director of the APTN series Mixed Blessings.
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Carnivore Leads Pack A British Columbia/Ontario coproduction about a woman who blackmails men into sleeping with her will lead oﬀ the Canada First! program at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Sook-Yin Lee’s Year of the Carnivore stars Cristin Milioti as Sammy Smalls, a 21-year-old tomboy who is told by the man she loves that she needs to play the ﬁeld to get more experience. According to publicist Helen Yagi, she hatches a plan that catapults her through her neighbours’ bedroom, to the public swimming pool and ﬁnally to blackmailing shoplifters into giving her sex lessons in the woods behind the supermarket. Lee, a former MuchMusic VJ and current CBC Radio 1 host, says that she felt the movie would work best if there were two sides to every character. “When I try to write something funny, it turns
serious,” she says. “When I try to write something serious, it’s funny. Tragedy and comedy are the ﬂip sides of the same beastie. Year of the Carnivore is a learning to love story. The people who inhabit the world of Carnivore are walking contradictions. They’re lovable and ﬂawed. They try their best and make a lot of mistakes. I’m interested in exploring the tender and raw experiences of sexuality - the woman confronting herself naked before she takes a shower, before the armour goes on.” In addition to Milioti the ﬁlm stars Mark Rendall, Ali Liebert, Sheila McCarthy, Kevin McDonald and Will Sasso. It was produced by Trish Dolman of Vancouver’s Screen Siren Pictures along with Simone Urdl and Jennifer Weiss of Toronto’s The Film Farm. Kryssta Mills is the co-producer. E1 Films Canada is scheduled to release the ﬁlm.
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Vancouver’s Emanuelle Vaugier will continue to appear in the CBS comedy Two and a Half Men
Fall exposure for locals Several western Canadian actors will be front and centre in high profile films and television series in September. The list includes Vancouver actor Clé Bennett, who stars in the CBC drama Guns on Labour Day weekend; Vancouver’s Emanuelle Vaugier, who has a recurring role in the CBS comedy Two and a Half Men, which returns to the network on September 21, and Yellowknife native Dustin Milligan, who co-stars in Miramax Films’ Extract, premiering September 4. Guns sees Bennett playing a street-level gun traﬃcker who works for a Toronto crime boss (Colm Feore.) Bennett is perhaps best known for his co-starring role in The Line, which stars Linda Hamilton and Ed Asner and currently airs on HBO Canada. He recently signed on for a role in Barney’s Version, which stars Dustin Hoﬀman and Paul Giamatti. Vaugier plays Mia, the ex-ﬁancée of Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen) on Two and a Half Men. Spokesperson Lesley Diana says Vaugier is also ﬁlming a television movie called Trace of Danger in which she plays a successful defense attorney who returns to her hometown to defend her ex-lover. Diana said Vaugier will also be co-starring in the feature Dolan’s Cadillac, which is scheduled to be released in December. Milligan, a regular in the series 90210, co-stars with Jason Bateman, Ben Aﬄeck and Mila Kunis in Extract, the Mike Judge-directed story of a factory ﬁlled with eccentric characters. Milligan recently wrapped the 2010 feature Gunless in Vancouver. The western stars Paul Gross as an American gunslinger who has a diﬃcult time dealing with polite Canadians. REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
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Burnaby, BC-based Knowledge Network has awarded a commission to Bliss Productions to produce creative documentaries that “speak to the importance and value of British Columbia’s First Nations languages.” According to a Knowledge Network spokesperson The First Nations directing team includes Anishinaabe director Lisa Jackson, Heiltsuk/Mohawk director Zoe Leigh Hopkins, Swampy Cree director Kevin Lee Burton, and Tsilhqot’in director Helen Haig-Brown. “We are excited to be working with this team of ﬁlmmakers to tell memorable stories that connect people to
their past through language,” said Knowledge Network president and CEO Rudy Buttignol. “Through these ﬁlms British Columbians will hear the beauty of First Nations languages; appreciate the rich history and culture that they are inextricably linked to and recognize the need to preserve them for future generations.” Butignol said the production team is led by executive producer/senior producer Sharon Bliss and co-producers Marilyn Thomas of Saulteaux First Nation, and Catrina Longmuir, producer of the National Film Board’s Our World, an initiative which works with youth in remote First Nations communities to create short digital ﬁlms.
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Three separate series have chosen an Okanagan housing development as host for individual episodes. According to spokesperson Leesa Beeson, Woodland Hills Development in the Mission area of Kelowna is home to episodes of the series Clean Slate, Behind the Gate and Relationships. According to Beeson Clean Slate is a reality TV series that aired its pilot episode in late August on the Global Television network. The show sees contestants compete in a variety of challenges testing their ﬁnancial savvy for a cash prize. A home at Woodland Hills was used for group scenes and post-challenge interviews. She said Behind the Gate will air on Wealth TV in the United States and showcases unique and luxurious homes in North America and around the world. The same property is featured in that show. Producer Cheryl Gillespie said that she expects to be back in Kelowna in the fall. “We realized there is such a storied collection of homes at the development that we have decided to bring the ﬁlm crew back in the fall to produce another episode on the Woodland Hills community itself.” Beeson said a pilot episode of Relationships was shot in May of this year with further ﬁlming expected to commence later this fall. REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
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More than two dozen Vancouver Film School Alumni were involved on the making of box office hit District 9
VFS Controls District One of the summer’s most surprising hits had its origins in the halls of Vancouver Film School’s Animation & Visual Eﬀects department. More than two dozen alumni were involved in the making of District 9 which was directed by Neill Blonkamp of the VFS class of 1998 and written by Blonkamp and 2001 alumnus Terri Tatchell with Shawn Walsh (VFS 1997) as supervisor of visual eﬀects. Vancouver’s Image Engine handled much of the visual eﬀects work “We are really excited about District 9,” said Alastair Macleod, who heads the school’s Animation & Visual Eﬀects department. “It’s great to see this work being done in Vancouver and I’m really happy that so many of our grads could be involved.” Said Walsh: “Nearly everyone who sees the visual eﬀects work says, ‘I didn’t think you guys were capable of that’ which just goes to illustrate how important it is that District 9 is seen as a coming-of-age ﬁlm for the Vancouver visual eﬀects community as a whole and Image Engine in particular.” Set in South Africa, the ﬁlm is a longer version of Alive in Joburg which Blonkamp, who was born and raised in Johannesburg, made in 2005. District 9 tells the story of aliens who dock their spacecraft above Johannesburg and then become prisoners of the government. After 20 years of hostility between locals and the aliens the decision is made to move the aliens to a new home. Pig Premieres A Vancouver-produced documentary that looks at the personal life of Kendall Chinn, lead singer for the punk band SNFU, recently premiered in Edmonton and Vancouver with plans for a DVD release to be announced later in the year. Called Open Your Mouth And Say… Mr. Chi Pig, it follows Chinn’s story from his troubled youth in REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
Edmonton to playing in front of thousands. According to a spokesperson, the film recounts Chinn’s battles with mental disorders and drug addiction and their impact on his art. The film includes interviews with Chinn and punk rockers Joe Keithley and Jello Biafra among others. The film is produced and directed by Sean Shaul and produced by Craig Laviolette.
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Michael Ghent “It was fun to think that I was best in this country at one particular thing for one particular year...”
liked to entertain people from an early age, it seems. I grew up in Kingston Ontario and we had a cottage in Algonquin Park where we spent endless summers as kids. My aunt’s birthday was in August and I remember our annual Aunt Maggie’s Birthday Show as a highlight of the summer. It was a “variety show” of songs and skits put on by us 14 cousins. Maggie always cried. (I think it was with joy). I loved to organize the show, to be in the silly skits and entertain Maggie. I was hooked, but my career in entertainment would have to wait a couple of decades to get started. I studied the sciences at the University of Toronto, thinking I would follow in my father’s eminent footsteps and become a doctor. My grades in the pure sciences, however, told a diﬀerent story. It should have occurred to me at the time that I was not cut out for medicine. (The best mark I received at university was in a philosophy elective course.) Yet, I graduated from U of T with a BSc in 1987 and it was time to see the world! I booked an around the world airline ticket and oﬀ I went. Five years later I had traveled, worked and studied through Fiji, New Zealand Australia, Japan, Switzerland, England and France. I had an MBA equivalent degree and was ready to head back to Canada. I had wanted to live in Vancouver since I was a kid so I left Paris and landed in BC in July of 1992. My ﬁrst few jobs were teaching ESL and as a lackey for a tour operator as I looked for work where I could use my education. I was interested in hotel development and thought I’d get into that as a career. I got a job at one of the big downtown hotels and was being groomed for management. A little over a year later and I had been suspended as the scapegoat in a bizarre incident with a high-proﬁle guest. We’ll just leave it at that… I quit that same day. And this was the moment that set me up for the rest of life. I was out of work when my sister’s friend’s husband, who was a camera operator on a TV series being shot in Vancouver, mentioned that they were looking for people. Thus, my ﬁrst gig in show business was as an oﬃce PA on really bad US series being shot in Vancouver. It was a great experience though, as it was mostly shot in studio and I learned a great deal (like ‘goldenrod’ is a colour) about studio production. When I wasn’t standing there watching, the AD’s made good use of me (I’m sure not in accordance with union rules.) I was not just an oﬃce PA but a stand-in, body double and I did a variety of insert shots. I used to get a kick out of seeing my hands on TV as if they belonged to the star of the show. The series was cancelled, natch, so I then made the decision to actually go to ﬁlm school to gain the proper technical knowledge. I enrolled at the Vancouver Film School in 1994 when it was just a few rooms in Yaletown. I learned to edit on a Steenbeck as Avids were just beginning to appear. The ﬁrst documentary I made at VFS was A Stretch of Time, about long-term HIV survivors. I had met a few people who had lived with the virus for ten years, which was a long time in those days, and was amazed by their stories. One of the subjects had been one of the ﬁrst cases diagnosed at St. Paul’s hospital in the West End. He was kept in isolation and the doctors wore environment suits when they ﬁrst treated him in 1984. He is still alive today, 25 years later, and doing very well thanks to those doctors. The other subjects in the ﬁlm passed away not long after I ﬁnished ﬁlm school. I didn’t know it at the time but this little ﬁlm school documentary was going to lead to many other things. While shooting the ﬁlm, I met some of the most brilliant researchers in HIV in the world at UBC. These doctors went on to be the co-chairs of the XI International Conference on AIDS in Vancouver in 1996. So, I went back to them after REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
ﬁlm school with the proposal that I make a ﬁlm about the conference in Vancouver. This evolved into me becoming the director of the cultural program for the entire conference. I was responsible for the public interface at Robson Square, which included art installations, dance performances, plays, public forums and one of the world’s ﬁrst HIV/AIDS ﬁlm festivals. It was a fascinating and very challenging experience, though not without some stigma attached. When I told people in 1996 that I worked for the Conference on AIDS, I could see the look go over their faces that I must be HIV positive. When the conference was actually on, the HIV positive artists, activists and ﬁlmmakers were often outraged that an HIV negative man could curate a cultural program on AIDS. It was a real eye-opener for me and I found it very odd that I was apologizing for not having HIV. I had never put together a ﬁlm festival before so I turned to Alan Franey and PoChu AuYeung at the Vancouver International Film Festival for some advice. This began my relationship with the VIFF, which has carried on to this day. I was Alan’s assistant and then a programmer for the VIFF. As I write this, I am back again with the VIFF. But I jump ahead…. During my initial years at the VIFF in the late 1990’s I ran the touring section of Canadian ﬁlms over the winter. It was called Moving Pictures and was begun by John Dippong, now with Teleﬁlm. The tour made stops in places like Whitehorse, Edmonton, Calgary, Prince George, Nanaimo, Whistler, Nelson, Cranbrook and as far east as Kingston, Ontario. This small touring festival became the seed for bigger, permanent festivals such as those that now exist in Whistler and Kingston. We were spreading Canadian ﬁlm propaganda with the help of the festival’s many guests who could not have been more pleased than to show up at a small screening of a Canadian ﬁlm in the dead of winter in Regina. Truly, our Canadian directors and actors were real troopers and had a great time going to small town festivals, often loving to see the ﬁlms with a “real” audience, not those who attend galas in Toronto (no oﬀence at all TIFF!) I moved on from the world of ﬁlm festivals in 2001, with a hankering to get into production again. I did some ﬁlm-extra work to ﬁll the time; background work in a few episodes of The X Files and some MOW starring Stacey Keach, if I recall. My next producing gig was working with Lynn Booth and Make Believe Media on a doc for CTV called Pretty Boys, a fun romp through the world of male modelling. I started pitching my own projects after that. I trekked out to Burnaby to the Global BC studio to pitch the production executive at the time. She actually liked some of my ideas but let me know that she was leaving the job to move to California. I knew right then that I wanted her job. Four months later, it was mine! Thus began my adventures with Canwest from 2003 to 2008 as a development/production executive. I pushed through nearly 500 hours of factual programming for the Canwest and former Alliance Atlantis networks under the mentorship of Loren Mawhinney, Christine Shipton, Michael Kot and Anna Gecan. They taught me a lot about the complicated world of Canadian content creation as Canwest underwent massive change. A highpoint in this time was winning a Gemini for Global Currents in 2007. It was fun to think that I was best in this country at one particular thing for one particular year. That doesn’t happen too often in one’s life. As we all know – things got bumpy for Canwest near the end of 2008 and I was laid-oﬀ in November. The time was right to move on, and after a wonderful break; I was hired as the Creative Director of the Film cont. on page 28 11
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PHOTO PHILLIP CHIN
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BEHIND THE SCENES
Trew Audio Patton finds happiness in Trew Story
Trew Audio owner Rick Patton with Sandy and Jasen Hamilton, Dion Saunders and the office dog
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t makes sense that great sound technicians would come from the home of country music. Surprisingly, Glen Trew, who founded Trew Audio in Nashville in 1994 and Nashville native Rick Patton, who started up Vancouver’s Location Sound in 1997, never met in their hometown. Instead they ﬁrst came across one another at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas in 2005. Something must have clicked. Within two years they had joined forces, with Patton overseeing Trew Audio Vancouver. The local store joined Trew Audio’s Toronto and Nashville stores, with all three dedicated to selling, renting and servicing professional audio equipment for sound production in the US, Canada and over 40 other countries worldwide. Patton says it all made sense to him when he met with Glen Trew. The store that Patton called home for many years was somewhat smaller than Trew Audio’s place of business. “My old store was a one bedroom rental suite in the back of my house, an old storefront in Chinatown. The entrance was literally through the back alley. Although it had 12’ ceilings, as was the norm for structures built in 1917, it had limited space for stocking items for sale. Finding space for service, sales, and storage was a challenge. If there were ﬁve people in that place it was crowded. Trew Audio came along right when I was contemplating retiring or getting a ‘real store.’ It was a parallel growth pattern for both stores. So now we have much deeper shelves in a reﬁned and stylish environment. Some folks miss the ‘funky’ old store with its Chinatown feel, but most like being able to get what they need now without having to duck into an alley to do it.” Patton has been a local leader in the sound production industry for more than two decades. Prior to founding Location Sound, he worked as a sound mixer on dozens of ﬁlms including Bird on a Wire, The Sixth Day, Happy Gilmore and Seven Years in Tibet. He says that while he has always felt he made the right career decision, he sees his background in the industry as a beneﬁt. “I never lost touch with my friends in the industry,” he says. “I stay in touch with the senior mixers and boom operators I came up with, and I get to meet the new mixers as well. Even though I’ve stepped back from the circus and the hours, I’m just as involved in the world of production as ever.” That world will include the Olympics in 2010. Patton says that his team - which includes sales manager Dion Saunders and rental department head Jasen Hamilton - is getting ready to work closely with the many visiting production companies heading to Vancouver. “As the Olympics get closer we are stocking our rental department with wireless systems, wireless camera hops, phone taps, press bridges, extra long microphone cables, ENG snakes, snake breakouts, and other items that might be required to solve a problem in a hurry. We also have ﬁrst-hand knowledge of wireless frequency restrictions, transportation issues, logistics of venues, prepping for our weather and other valuable information to sound crews from around the world. Our Vancouver 2010 web page provides a primer for incoming crews and is updated as the Games approach.” Patton says visiting crews also have access to ﬁeld recorders and mixers, microphones, boompoles, windscreens, slates, recording accessories and the company’s online store, consignment store and rentals department. According to Patton a key advantage that Trew oﬀers the marketplace is its focus on location sound. He says that he hires people who have backgrounds similar to his own in order to assure ﬁlm and TV crews that they are in good hands. “Our staﬀ has a wealth of audio production experience and real world advice for the men and women in the trenches. Trew is a dedicated audio merchant specializing in location sound. We diﬀer from our competition in that it is solely what we do as opposed to being the audio department of a video/ﬁlm equipment house. It’s the world that I came from and the one I know best.” Q 13
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QUESTION AND ANSWER
Writer-Director David Twohy on set of A Perfect Getaway
Getting Away Writer-Director David Twohy makes a perfect getaway
avid Twohy, the man who wrote and directed one of the most expensive movies ﬁlmed in Canada - the Vancouver-shot The Chronicles of Riddick - ﬁrst gained fame through the writing of The Fugitive, for which he won a Writers Guild Award nomination. The roller coaster ride started almost immediately. He went from there to the writing of the classic box oﬃce bomb Waterworld. When he decided to direct the ﬁlms he was writing he won critical acclaim for the tiny ﬁlm Pitch Black. Unlike most successful low budget ﬁlms, however, Pitch Black spawned a very expensive sequel. The Chronicles of Riddick cost over a hundred million and made just half of that upon its domestic release. 14
Five years later, Twohy wrote and directed the low budget suspense ﬁlm A Perfect Getaway starring Milla Jovovich and Steve Zahn, which came out in theatres this summer. In August he talked to Reel West about that ﬁlm, negotiating with ﬁlm commissions, and the perils of making big budget movies. Until you made The Chronicles of Riddick you appeared to have moved away from big movies like Waterworld. Did you decide to write and direct A Perfect Getaway because you needed to get back to your roots? “I think in some way this was an overreaction to big scale ﬁlms. I wanted to do something smaller, something where I was working close to the
camera and closer to the actors and that is what it was about for me. In terms of story and interesting characters I probably could have done this movie at the studio level if I had wanted to make it more conventional. But I didn’t want to do that and I found a company that would ﬁnance the movie as scripted. It is very close to the ﬁrst draft. The best thing for a ﬁlmmaker is making smaller ﬁlms because you get creative freedom and the opposite of that is the studio event movie where a lot of people want to have their say and they have probably developed the script for a year and overdeveloped it and probably sanitized it and hammered it over the forge of conformity until you get something uninspired. That
is the pressure we all feel when we make a movie that is 100 million or more and there is not much you can do except roll with the punches.” Apparently at one point you were ready to make a very low budget movie out of this material. What happened to that plan? “I imagined a small guerilla crew of about 20 people and about four or ﬁve actors and I would do it right on the trail in Hawaii. But two things happened. I started to talk to camera men and sound guys about working on the trail because I thought we would camp on the trail and get up out of our tents in the morning and start shooting. Then the technicians were saying ‘we need supply lines and we need to get ﬁlm in and out’ and REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
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it started to grow into a large scale production as they inevitably do. So when we looked at the budget it became a case of going to Puerto Rico for the money because there was a 40 per cent tax rebate as opposed to 15% in Kauai. You go to the place where you get the most bang for your buck. Puerto Rico doesn’t look like Kauai but at the end of the shoot I did three days of aerials and shots on the island and some visual eﬀects so that I could make Puerto Rico look as mountainous and craggy as Kauai.” Did the Hawaii ﬁlm commission have problems with the plot, which features violence against tourists? “No, if you bring money they will take your money. They were not worried about perverting paradise. It was always a negotiation about how we do it for the budget and how many teamsters are assigned to each truck.” Do you have any regrets about the budget on Riddick? “When I go around to Hollywood to talk about movies there are a lot of guys behind the desk who say ‘God, I loved Pitch Black.’ I know there is an audience that wants more (of Riddick.) We probably spent too much on the second one and were too ambitious and tried to reach too much but as (poet Robert) Browning said ‘a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or else what is heaven for?’ So if we were guilty of overreaching it is not the worst thing in the world.” So is another story there? “I have sketched out two stories that would continue the adventures of Riddick. Vin and I have talked about whether we should do that at the studio level, where they would probably want a PG13 rating, or if we can raise our own money territory by territory. We would have to scale back down if we are raising our own money because we are not going to get as much. So the budget has to be smaller. The problem with Riddick is it got so big that the studio said ‘you have no choice but to make it PG13.’ So you had to cut back on how tough people are and whether it feels right for the series. When you are dealing with an anti hero like Riddick it should be an R rating because the characters should be tough.” Are you the type of director who plans things out or do you make it in the editing room after shooting lots of coverage? “A good director always comes in with a strong plan but a great director, and I am not there yet, will always be willing to let the plan go because they may REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
see something better. If you are so entrenched in your plan and you want to see it executed you may not leave yourself open to the great possibilities that happen on the set; the magical things that happen that you would never have anticipated. I used to think that the script is the bible but now I am more open to creative ideas because I know how a movie gets oﬀ-track and I know how to get it on track. I think you can entertain any idea and play it out and decide ‘does that work or not work?’ and if it got you oﬀ-track you go back to the source.” You and Vin Diesel were collaborators on Riddick. What does he add to the making of a ﬁlm? “Vin is one of those guys who will say ‘why don’t we do this?’ And some of it is way out there and you can’t possibly entertain it. Stuﬀ like ‘I want to be on top of a mountain for this shot.’ We will say ‘we don’t have a mountain today Vin so why don’t we just play it out.’ Every once in a while he will have a crazy idea that turns out to be a great idea and if you don’t listen to them all you will miss that one pearl in there.” Given the risks of directing a big budget movie, what is the incentive for a director to work on them? And what are the drawbacks? “You get all the toys and all the motion control machines in the world. You get a second unit with a second unit director and blue screens and green screens if you want them. There is something enticing about that. Every guy wants his own train set and as Orson Welles said ‘Hollywood gives you the biggest train sets in the world.’ Technology is always a temptation and we all succumb to that at one point. But what I learned is that it makes you less nimble than you probably should be and it removes you from the cast. The more cranes you get the further you are, literally and ﬁguratively, from the actors. In a drama the director should be right at camera side and not hanging back with the monitors. He should be feeling the energy the way the camera does, but if you are directing one of those extravaganzas you have a 40 foot crane in front of you or, as I had in Riddick, a crane on top of a crane. You are a mile away from things and suddenly you are talking to the actors through a walkie-talkie or through the ﬁrst A.D. It’s kind of crazy and the actors can get hostile because they are getting direction from the ﬁrst AD and they feel like cogs in a machine.” Q
“My copy said ‘copy write of Warner Bros. You will be seriously persecuted and thrown in jail forever if anyone gets hold of this.’ So I didn’t get completely carried away.” - Canadian actress Rachel McAdams on why she didn’t cry when she watched a DVD of her latest film: the emotionally charged The Time Traveler’s Wife. “A quarter of the people who were there did not see the stage or hear the music very well. When I first talked to (Taking Woodstock author) Elliot Tiber he explained to me that the term Taking Woodstock meant taking it to heart. That is the essence of the film to me. It is like making a movie about god or religion. You don’t want to personalize it too much because when you do it belittles it. Most of the musicians who performed said their music sucked. There was nothing very inspiring in that because they are doing it like a business. But I think this film is about the goers not the singers. That was very important to me and also for James it was a lot cheaper to do it that way.” - Director Ang Lee on why he and Focus Films CEO James Schamus didn’t show the iconic concert in Taking Woodstock. .“I would think ‘oh no, I am being pigeon holed. I am an artist and that is just one part of me.’ It was torture, but I had a baby just before I started working on A Perfect Getaway and she’s okay. So pigeonhole me, please. For the next few years I have a great franchise and I have steady work. I know that if I want to I can always do a smaller film and play a character with more depth. I was happy to play the ‘girl next door’ in A Perfect Getaway. At first I thought ‘no one is going to give me that part.’ It is important to show other sides and hopefully when I finish with movies people will be able to look at my movies and see a whole person there.” - Milla Jovovich on the impact the Resident Evil film series has had on her career. “I remember when I was ten (in 1959) and was at this other little girl’s house and I thought she and her mother were doing something to tennis balls. I asked them what they were doing and my friend said they were making mashed potatoes. They were peeling potatoes, but I had never seen a potato. I thought mashed potatoes came out of a box. My mother’s motto was ‘if it is not done in 20 minutes it is not dinner.’ She had a lot to do and cooking was not a priority. I think that changed with Julia. I recently found an old magazine that I had kept for the knitting patterns. It was from 1967 and it was called Woman’s Day. It is filled with recipes and food ads and it was all about Del Monte canned peas and Del Monte canned corn and canned beans. They all said ‘take ground beef, and artificial mashed potatoes, layer it and top it off with tomato sauce and put it in the oven.’ Presto: dinner. People forget. The organic movement and other things have helped to take food where it is now it but Julia changed the way people thought about cooking.” - Julie & Julia star Meryl Streep on Julia Child’s influence on modern cuisine. Excerpted from interviews done by Reel West editor Ian Caddell.
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By Ian Caddell
Finding this Land Two years before his actor brother Raymond became internationally famous for portraying an iconic American in the film Abe Lincoln in Illinois, Vincent Massey was initiating a process that would change the course of Canadian filmmaking. Vincent, who would eventually become Canadaâ€™s first homegrown Governor General, was the Canadian High Commissioner to London in 1938 when he authorized a study on the state of Canadian cinema. Written by British filmmaker John Grierson, it was Masseyâ€™s way of improving on existing methods of promoting Canada and Canadians to international markets >>
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CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: This Land captures the epic adventure of an arctic expedition; Photo by Dianne Whelan. Finding Farley Director Leanne Allison takes some time to read; Photo by Karsten Heuer. Karsten Heuer and son Zev take a close look at their map while Willow the dog catches some z’s on set of Finding Farley; Photo by Leanne Allison. Zev takes a look behind the camera; Photo by Leanne Allison.
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>> Grierson discovered that the existing government ﬁlm entity, the Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau, was being overseen by the Department of Commerce and that other sectors were being ignored. He felt that while Canadians should certainly be making ﬁlms that introduced the country to the world, it was also time for a ﬁlm authority that could “help Canadians…understand the problems and way of life of Canadians in other parts of the country.” Seventy years ago this month, in September of 1939, Grierson helped to bring together a Governing Council to oversee the National Film Board. However, Canada declared war the same month and the NFB was called on to produce patriotic ﬁlms as part of the war eﬀort. The noble intention of introducing the various far-ﬂung regions of Canada to its citizens was put on hold for almost a decade. Fortunately, Grierson, the man who had introduced the concept, was appointed to run the NFB two months later and by the 1950s the country’s educational institutions were using NFB ﬁlms to tell stories about Canadians to Canadian baby boomers. Northern Canada was particularly well represented on the NFB’s ﬁlm list. The story of the north was told through dozens of features and shorts including Pangnirtung, Caribou Hunters, Canada’s Awakening North and High Arctic. Although the NFB has, throughout its history, helped Canadian ﬁlmmakers to tell stories in almost every region of the globe, it appears, in the year that the NFB celebrates its 70th anniversary, that there is still room for stories about Canadians living in remote regions. During the fall ﬁlm festival season the NFB’s Vancouver oﬃce will roll out two documentary features that echo Grierson’s original approach. This Land is a companion piece to ﬁlmmaker/photographer Dianne Whelan’s book This Vanishing Land and tells the story of Whelan’s two thousand mile journey with the Canadian Forces and the isolated-communities-based Canadian Rangers. They took a never patrolled route along the northwestern coast of Ellesmere Island on a mission to show Canada’s sovereignty over the High Arctic. The second ﬁlm, Finding Farley, looks at an Alberta-based couple’s trek across Canada in search of the country that Farley Mowat wrote about in books like Never Cry Wolf and A Whale for the Killing. Tracey Friesen, the Vancouver-based executive producer of the NFB’s Paciﬁc and Yukon Centre, says that the NFB has always tried to ﬁnd a balance between documentary ﬁlms about Canada and ﬁlms that show Canadians international cultures. “I think our slate of ﬁlms still has a balance of ﬁlms that are very clearly about Canada that we hope will be of interest outside Canada and at home and ﬁlms by Canadians that deal with issues important to Canadians but might be shot outside of Canada. So there is room for all those types of ﬁlms. However, there was an overt attempt with these two ﬁlms to bring our stories back to ourselves.” Whelan and Friesen ﬁrst met when Friesen was lecturing to a documentary course at North Vancouver’s Capilano University. Whelan was attending the course in an eﬀort to take her photography to ﬁlm. She phoned Friesen before she left on her journey and then brought the raw ﬁlm to the NFB upon her return. Friesen says that the material was impressive and, perhaps more importantly, touched on a number of relevant issues. “When I looked through some of the material I just thought it was so beautiful and so evocative,” she says. “Although she touched on several important themes you weren’t hit over the head with them. And the list is long. The ﬁlm looks at climate change and global warming and the relationship of the Inuit people to technology and military personnel and is also about Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. It is all there. You go along on this crazy trip but it is extremely relevant in today’s world.” Whelan took a diverse background with her on her trip north. Before she went to Capilano to take courses in ﬁlmmaking she had won awards for her photography, had earned a degree in political theory from Montreal’s McGill University and had studied journalism at Langara College in Vancouver. She says that all of her educational and work experience came in handy on her trip to the Arctic. “It seemed like a perfect synthesis for the last 20 years of my life,” she says. “It appealed to me as another way of storytelling. I didn’t enjoy journalism because I didn’t feel there was enough time or space to tell a story. I think the truth takes a lot of space and time. Then when I went to the Whistler Film Festival I saw photos of the Arctic that had been taken by David Henningson. He had been there the year before and was at Whistler to pitch the idea of doing a ﬁlm. I talked to him that night and said ‘listen, those images are stunning.’ He said that he felt something should be done to help send a message about the problems in the Arctic but 17
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LEFT: A team of Canadian and Inuit rangers set sail on their snowmobiles in This Land; Photo by Dianne Whelan. RIGHT: Finding Farley director Leanne Allison lines up the canoe along the Cochrane River in Manitoba; Photo by Karsten Heuer.
he was disheartened because he couldn’t aﬀord to put money or time into it. “I always wanted to go there as a photographer but I saw that with global warming there might not be icebergs to photograph. When I was looking at David’s photos I saw the image of a Canadian ﬂag on a truck in the Arctic. The intellectual in me had looked at images like that as propaganda programming from an early age. But the image of the ﬂag on that landscape reminded me that half our home is Arctic and it is vanishing. So I wanted to document the landscape before it disappeared. And when I heard that Russia and the US were challenging our ownership of the North West Passage, I became this ﬁerce warrior. Intellectually I know that in the big picture we are one people on one planet but my heart wanted me to go out and beat up the schoolyard bullies and I decided to follow my heart.” Whelan had some idea of what the north would look like but says that it was beyond anything she had imagined. She says that she quickly realized that a combination of things made it a photographer’s dream. “I had no idea how beautiful it was or that there were large mountains and deserts,” she says. “The big surprise was that for all of its power it was very sensitive and fragile. It seems harsh but it has a very fragile ecology. “ She had been drawn to the idea of going there from Henningson’s photographs but they were mostly aerial shots. She wanted to shoot from ground level but wasn’t allowed to be on the ice alone. Instead, she had to work closely with the Canadian Forces. She says that her attitude towards the military went through a sea change when she started working with the Rangers and the Canadian Forces on the tundra. “I have always been on the left of the spectrum but I was blown away by the Army guys I was with,” she says. “I expected more attitude but there is danger in large generalizations. It is an interesting hybrid of old and new Army. You have satellite ice maps and then you have the Rangers, who are mostly Inuit, and have thousands of years of knowledge looking at the landscape and reading it. The Army couldn’t go there without people who have intimate knowledge of the land. I also liked the diversity of the group we had there. We were all Canadian but there were people from all over the Arctic, a French Canadian commanding ofﬁcer and a sergeant who was a great grandson of (explorer) Rolf Amundsen. The thing we had in common was the love of this land. I was humbled by the people I traveled with. You go from observer to participant. There were seven days of whiteouts and on the push to Alert Bay there was a hurricane. There were so many bonding experiences.” Leanne Allison and Karsten Heuer had worked with the National Film Board on Being Caribou, an award-winning ﬁlm that saw the couple travel on foot with the caribou herd as it went from the Yukon to Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and back again. When the ﬁve month trip was over they went to Washington, D.C. to talk about the discoveries they had made. Friesen says that she had 18
no trouble signing on to help them with their follow-up ﬁlm. “We had a rapport with them and knowledge that there is innate skill and passion there. We enjoyed the experience and Being Caribou was very successful for the NFB. They came back with the idea for Finding Farley which was surprising in a way because it is lighter and didn’t have the same driving activism. It did have a unique combination of story elements. I can honestly say that I could sit at my desk for 10 years and I don’t think I could ﬁnd a proposal about a family that was going to canoe across a country to meet Farley Mowat and go through the territories of his books and reﬂect on the changing landscape and on the origin of the stories all with their dog and small child in tow. They had access to Farley but they didn’t want to make him the centre of the story. They had an environmental message but it was a much softer message than the one that they delivered in Being Caribou.” The process began for Alberta-based Allison and Heuer when they sent the book and ﬁlm versions of Being Caribou to Mowat. He wrote a letter on his typewriter and followed it up with a phone call inviting the ﬁlmmakers to his Nova Scotia home. They wanted to visit him but decided that rather than ﬂy or drive straight there they should look at ways of going from Alberta to Cape Breton that might take them through the Canada that Mowat had written about. That would be diﬃcult since they had a two year old named Zev and a dog and had elected to go through the prairies without a car. “I said ‘let ‘s canoe,’” says Allison. “We didn’t have the entire route ﬁgured out but we rolled our canoe down to the Bow River and took it through the prairies to places that were the setting for books like Owls in the Family and Born Naked. We still had to ﬁgure out a way of getting north of Saskatchewan so we bought a van and then traded it for a motorbike. We followed the course of Farley’s trip 60 years ago from (Saskatchewan’s) Reindeer Lake to Hudson’s Bay.” They canoed to Saskatoon, drove north through Saskatchewan and then got back in their canoe and went through Nunavut, home to Mowat’s People of the Deer, Never Cry Wolf and Lost in the Barrens. They ﬂew from the Nunavut town of Arviat to Churchill, Manitoba where they caught the Hudson Bay Railway. They took trains all the way to Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula and then took a boat to the Magdalene Islands, home to Mowat’s Sea of Slaughter. The next stop was Newfoundland and Allison says she and Heuer decided to do something they had never done before. “We knew nothing about sailing but we wanted to go to Newfoundland by boat. So we spent three months in a 30 foot long sail boat. Surprisingly it was very stable and Zev had the run of the boat.” The mission to ﬁnd the Canada that Mowat had discovered in his writings was successful, according to Allison. “There were several magical things on the journey,” she says. “We saw a Great Horned Owl like the ones in Owls in the Family in a cottonwood tree and we saw two white wolves that were very similar to the REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
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“...we came to the conclusion that while a lot of things have changed in terms of the way we see nature in this country, those stories are still out there, and I think the film shows that.” - Finding Farley director Leanne Allison on finding the Canada that Mowat had discovered in his writings ones in Never Cry Wolf. And when we were in Burgeo (home to A Whale for the Killing), we saw two Fin Whales. So we came to the conclusion that while a lot of things have changed in terms of the way we see nature in this country, those stories are still out there, and I think the ﬁlm shows that.” Friesen says she got behind the two ﬁlms because she felt that each had the ability to ﬁnd an audience. She says that This Land has several talking points but that it should appeal directly to the patriotism of Canadians given that the ﬁlmmakers assess the future of the Canadian Arctic. Finding Farley, she says, addresses key environmental issues but is also a family adventure and a story of hope. “I always think about who might adopt a ﬁlm after it has premiered,” she says. “You think about organizations that might be interested in the ﬁlm. For instance, you think about a ﬁlm like This Land and ask ‘will it work for environmental organizations?’ I think that the issue of northern sovereignty will become increasingly important and that there will be political implications. Our government is talking about it in a wide-ranging way and This Land introduces that topic in a really visceral manner. In the ﬁlm, you see the Canadian ﬂag being planted so you can’t get much more visceral than that. “I think the success of Being Caribou was owed to the fact that activists had something to show to demonstrate exactly what was at stake. They said ‘here are these animals and if this happens they die.’ In the case of Finding Farley, there was this theme that the landscape is very fragile. But the ﬁlm is hopeful. The ﬁlmmakers saw a lot of wildlife and it was still beautiful. The work that Farley started 60
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years ago continues. We can’t stop doing it because that kind of environmental work still has to happen but one way of doing it is to get your kids out in nature to ensure that they have an appreciation of the environment. So if it is in danger more people will ﬁght for it.” As for the National Film Board itself, Friesen says it has prospered despite early concerns that it would fade when it was no longer the only show in town. She says that while the Canadian public has many sources for information 70 years after the founding of the NFB, it has managed to stay relevant. “There is a constant internal and external dialogue at the NFB about how we can remain distinct and distinctive and how we can continue to contribute as a public producer and what it means to be a public distributor of ﬁlms. We are always looking at how we can add something or take risks that the private sector can’t take. We ask questions like ‘is there emerging talent that won’t be supported otherwise?’ or ‘is there something genre-based that we can try where we can advance the form a bit?’ because it might not happen outside of the public environment. So I think there is a constant evaluation of our place. What I am seeing now and have seen over the last couple of years is an emphasis on the big screen. It is becoming clear that people still like to go to movies and have that shared common experience of seeing something overpowering and cinematic. We want to be a part of that and we are telling the best directors in Canada that we are here and we want to work with them.” Both Allison and Whelan are fans of the NFB and the way cont. on page 28
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By Ian Caddell // Photos by Rebecca Sandulak
Field of Dreams Sara Canning’s career is on the rise. The Vancouver Film School graduate is co-starring in a CW Network television show called The Vampire Diaries that TV pundits feel is a good bet to have a long run. The Atlanta-shot series is a distance, in a lot of ways, from the Manitoba-set movie she made prior to going south. For one thing, it’s unlikely that producers of the TV show will ask her to help the crew tear green grass out of the ground between takes. That was a necessity on Black Field, the Manitoba production that is expected to be playing at theaters during Canada’s fall film festivals. Danishka Esterhazy’s period piece about a 19th Century woman who will do what it takes to get her sister back from an abductor was shot in the early spring on the prairies and the cast and crew were recruited to help make sure the bleak backdrops didn’t include greenery. Canning says that the experience was nothing new to her and that she was happy to be working in a ﬁlm where the backdrop was an advantage to ﬁnding the character. “We had pretty freezing weather with snow and we joked with Danishka that she wrote a bleak script, so if you’re lucky and the weather cooperates this is what you get. The good thing was that you didn’t have to use a lot of imagination to get into the roles. The sets they built were rugged and Danishka was big on accuracy. She wanted to translate on ﬁlm how hard it would be to live in that area in the 1800s. We were praying it wouldn’t turn green and as soon as we saw any grass we pulled it out. Everyone else in Manitoba was praying for spring. “That was ﬁne because to be honest, most Canadian features have small budgets so Canadian actors are used to working closely with crews to get the movie made. They know that they have to be ready to go all the time and help out. We were tired but no one complained because we were there to get the job done. Everyone was there because they wanted to be there and we just banded together. It was great to be on a set like that. It can be tough because you shoot all day every day. In this case though, it allowed me to push forward and get the character right as quickly as possible.” In the ﬁlm Canning plays a Scottish homesteader named Maggie McGregor who is left to raise her 14 year old sister Rose (Ferron Guerreiro) after her parents die. When Rose is kidnapped by a French Canadian trapper (David Latouche) Maggie leaves the ranch and pursues them across the prairie. The ﬁlm was shot in 20 days at the Barone Ranch Studios near the Manitoba town of Tyndall. Esterhazy felt she could best tell the story if she was on location in the region where the story is set. That decision led to several challenges. All the weather that the characters were supposed to encounter came in to play, but there were also concerns about the things that would have been missing from the scene in the 1800s but are commonplace in modern Manitoba. “So much of the script is concerned with exterior scenes,” she says. “And if you write a dismal scene in a rugged environment you have to go there in order to capture it. REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
“But we had to shoot them within a speciﬁc window to capture the bleakness of that world. We had to shoot it when the snow is melting in that pause between winter and spring. So we had major continuity problems trying to shoot in one location where there would be rain and snow because it’s almost spring and so it can also be dry and sunny. There is also the impact of the weather on the crew. When it’s rainy they are soaked to the bone. It’s incredible how that can slow things so I had to adjust. We also had to work with the landscape, which is an open space that, in the 1800s, would have no combines or Hydro lines etc. We had to ﬁnd that space which wasn’t easy in 2009.” Esterhazy had worked on several short ﬁlms before she set out to make her ﬁrst feature and decided that if she were going to capture the look that the ﬁlm needed she would need the cinematographer who had helped her through some of the shorts. Paul Suderman had been the director of photography on three of the ﬁlms: Snow Queen, Infectious, and Red Hood. He says that the visual style in all of the ﬁlms has come from Esterhazy’s scripts. “The images fairly leap oﬀ the page,” he says. “The writing is that evocative. My challenge has always been to create photographic images that match the images she has already imagined and written on paper.” Suderman says that when he thought about lighting the ﬁlm, he kept coming back to the reality of the light in rural Manitoba in the 19th century. He says that he could see that he would be mostly working with natural light. “There was the sun and moon, and there was ﬁre, and that was it,” he says. “That helped focus the ideas about where light could originate from, and logically led to our shooting plan. For day exteriors, which happen mostly on the sisters’ barren farm, the characters are either cross-lit or backlit, with little ﬁll to build in some darkness. Day interiors were lit so that all the light is motivated from the very few small windows, giving us a source that is both soft and limited, letting the walls and corners fall away into darkness. Night interiors were motivated by candles, candle lanterns, and oil lamps. Warm and dark would best describe the night interiors. They were motivated by moonlight, a sickly moonlight that only barely sketches out what happens, and by candle lamps that characters held to provide a little more illumination to their faces. In all these lighting scenarios, we were able to build in the darkness even with limited control of the elements.” The lack of control of the elements particularly aﬀected the crew that built the 21
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set, one led by production designer Ricardo Alms. They arrived several weeks before principal photography began, when winter was still in charge of the landscape. They worked in snow, rain and howling winds to build the sets that play a pivotal role in the ﬁlm. Alms says that for all of their struggle, his crew and he believed that there would be a sense of authenticity about the ﬁlm. “Anytime you are involved in a ﬁlm that counts the weather as a signiﬁcant character, you are in for some drama that is not necessarily written into the script. Can you put the meteorological performance to work for the show? Can you harness the surprises? The conditions were tough on set, but I hope that authenticity permeates the ﬁlm in the same way our characters inhabit their landscape.” While the resulting mud was a problem, the biggest headache for a production design crew of a period piece is always going to be the replicating of the world created by the script. The script for Black Field called for a Scottish homestead’s farmhouse and barn, as well as a Ukrainian family’s house and barn and to ﬁll both with appropriate props. He was able to ﬁnd a rural museum nearby that had moved a settler’s log cabin onto its premises. He says that although it needed some major structural refurbishing, it could be used as the Ukrainian farm with its dressing providing set pieces for the Scottish homestead. “There is nothing like having the real goods from real people,” he says. “The fabrication of the remaining buildings was aided by the construction department’s keenness. Nearby, they had built a pole barn the previous year and had moved it to site as the ﬁrst blizzard of winter blew in. We fabricated many of the props and set pieces that we were unable to source easily. Things like stools, buckets, tools, doors and windows. Winnipeg is a repository for old materials and goods, and our set decorator mined some signiﬁcant veins of old merchandise that already had a lifetime of Red River gumbo all over them.” While Esterhazy didn’t have much control over the elements, she did have some control over the outdoor set that hosted the movie. Two Lagoons Productions, the company that owns the 85-acre site, is owned by the ﬁlm’s producers, Jeﬀ Skinner and Kent Ulrich. Skinner says that when they ﬁrst read the script they could see that it would be something they could shoot on the property. “We have established back-lots on the property so we knew that we could shoot 22
it without making too many changes to the script. It drains well so we could go out there even after the heaviest rains and shoot. There was a lot of mud which made it somewhat diﬃcult to work in but it looks great on screen.” The property’s ability to handle the needs of Black Field was no accident. Ulrich says that when he ﬁrst got into the ﬁlm business he decided that if he was going to be involved with a production company it should have an infrastructure. He says that he set out to ﬁnd a piece of land that would work for both his company’s ﬁlms and those from out of the province and that all would be eligible for tax credits given to ﬁlms shot in rural locations. “You are dealing with a ﬁlm community here that does not have a history of raising money so it was important to have something to oﬀer people looking for locations. We have 15 buildings and we have used the (on-site) saloon as an oﬃce and production facility for features. It’s a developing process and we have a long way to go. We only began this venture 18 months ago and we have been involved in ﬁve features already. We chose that land speciﬁcally. It took six months to ﬁnd land because it had to have a whole list of requirements. We had gone on tours in several diﬀerent cities and then looked around and thought ‘this is what Manitoba has to oﬀer geographically.’ We wanted to be in the southern part of the province to be eligible for the (rural) tax credit. We knew we couldn’t be in the ﬂood zone and some places we were looking at had single lanes that closed in the winter. Through a process of elimination we found this land. It is forested with two lagoons and then on another section we built our own roads so that we could take a full circus on set. It worked well for Black Field because it is out of the way of ﬂight paths and there are no wires so you can ﬁnd the right look for the time.” Skinner, an actor with credits in several Winnipeg-shot ﬁlms, had known Esterhazy through the local ﬁlm community. He says that he had followed her career and knew enough about her work to take it seriously when she approached him with a screenplay for her ﬁrst feature. “She brought up the fact that she was doing a ﬁrst feature and she talked about Black Field and I read it and I was grabbed after two pages. I fell in love with it and decided that we (Two Lagoons) should go ahead with it. She had a very clear vision and that shows up on screen. Once she had done her ﬁne cut she called a whole REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
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“Anytime you are involved in a film that counts the weather as a significant character, you are in for some drama that is not necessarily written into the script...” - Production Designer Ricardo Alms on working with the elements
bunch of ﬁlmmakers and asked their opinions and brought them into the screening room to provide input. They oﬀered astute criticisms and came up with ways to solve problems. She is always looking for ways to make projects better.” Once Ulrich and Skinner had signed on to the ﬁlm they began to work with Esterhazy on casting. Ulrich had produced a Winnipeg-shot TV movie that starred Canning and was sure that she would be perfect for the role. While Esterhazy had her doubts, she agreed to interview the Vancouver actress. “Danishka had a very speciﬁc visual style in mind,” he says. “She was looking for a ‘Bronte sisters’ look for the ﬁlm and wanted the actors to ﬁt that image. I had worked with Sara in a ﬁlm called Taken in Broad Daylight and although I knew that she didn’t really have the look that Danishka wanted I knew that she had talent and would do a good job on the role. So I said ‘just look at her.’ Danishka hesitated initially but when she looked at the tapes she told her to audition. Sara really commits
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herself to a role and that showed up on the audition tape. Danishka loved her.” Esterhazy would have loved to have had more money. The producers raised half a million, which is not much for any ﬁlm but is particularly low for a period piece. Esterhazy says that there were cynics who were concerned that she just didn’t have enough money to produce a ﬁlm that was going to be set in the 19th Century. “There is a wisdom that you can’t do a historical drama under $3 million,” she says, “and so when I would talk to people about it they just shook their heads. But we planned it incredibly and a lot of people had worked on (Winnipeg-based ﬁlmmaker) Guy Maddin’s movies so they were used to creating big ﬁlms from low budgets. I would have loved to have had at least $2 million but it’s hard to get a ﬁrst feature ﬁnanced. I knew when I ﬁrst started working on it that it could be doable but that I would have to think about the costs while I was writing it. I think that approach paid oﬀ.” Q
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Diary by Gary Fisher
Staying Hungry Eighteen years after he first read the George Ryga novel Hungry Hills, Vancouverbased screenwriter Gary Fisher has seen the project come to fruition. The film version, entitled George Ryga’s Hungry Hills is directed by Regina-based Rob King and has been invited to the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the Canada First section. In his diary, Fisher looks back at the day he optioned the rights, the day he realized that his life would be changed forever and the day he and King and their partners finally got the film financed. 1991 I read the novel Hungry Hills by George Ryga and connect with it. It seems to contain a lot of feelings every young person has living in a world they didn’t make. It’s about social justice, standing up and not giving up. It’s for every person who has ever been denied the respect they deserve for just being whom and what they are. I write a treatment. The treatment streamlines the story, drops characters, and makes other changes according to my interpretation of the novel. Over time I’ll add a character and change another from a symbol into something else. The objective here is that no matter what I change or must change to turn a novel into a screenplay, I want to be true to the spirit and intent of the original work. I want to acknowledge the primary source of whatever results, so the title will be George Ryga’s HUNGRY HILLS. 1992 With a Literary Option and Purchase Agreement vended-in by the publisher, Karl Siegler of Talonbooks, I go to see Ann Kujundzic in East Vancouver. At that time and for many years after, Ann is the Rights Administrator for George Ryga and Associates Inc. We have coﬀee. I sense that Ann has to approve of me and she does. February 1, 1992 The Agreement is signed, luckily with payment due July 1st – thanks to Ann. It’s for two years, renewable for another three, taking me into 1996. Plenty of time. I take the Agreement, my treatment, the novel and a development budget to Lisa Purdy at BC Film. BC ﬁlm approves funding for treatment to First Draft. I pay the Option Fee for the ﬁrst two years and begin to write the screenplay. 1993 My agent has pointed out that TV is where the money is. I’m at the National Story Editors Training Program in Toronto, which is training Story Editors for series television. It is the second weekend-long session and there are only twelve of us left standing. I step outside the Labyrinth-like CBC building and see a guy who doesn’t talk much having a smoke. His name is Rob King. When the program is over I see him in the lobby of the Holiday Inn. We are both ﬂying home and on an impulse we take a limo to the airport and split the cost. Rob ends up on Road to Avonlea and I go on Season 2 of The Odyssey in Vancouver. (The next time I see King, maybe a year later, I give him hell for not reading a feature script I pulled out of inventory and sent to Minds Eye Pictures, where he’s VP of Development. He apologizes, then gives me hell for leaving him stranded in downtown Vancouver looking for the Bayshore Hotel. I apologize. It feels like we smoked in a high school washroom, fought in a schoolyard and then someone’s Mom made us a grilled cheese sandwich.) March 1994 I renew the option for Hungry Hills on February 1, 1994. At this point in my writing life I decide to get involved in making the movie. It won’t be made without me as a producer. I’ll submit it to myself. I’ll write a polite rejection letter. If I like my script, I’ll option it to myself for a dollar. If someone’s going to pay me nothing, it might as well be me. A bonus: I can give myself notes. If I don’t agree with my notes, I can force me to do them. I join up with Mary Guilfoyle, whom I met on The Odyssey. We make an application to Teleﬁlm. We get ten grand for a rewrite and budgeting. We
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bring David Ohnona on board to help out and he gets Hungry Hills a Senior Projects Grant from FUND. Later in 1994 I know Phillip Borsos through a spec script he’s read, the ﬁrst screenplay I ever wrote. He invites me out to the set of his last ﬁlm, Far From Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog. I’ve told him about Hungry Hills. He’s been good to me and I’m grateful. At the Cancer Clinic on Tenth Avenue where my wife Merike is getting treated for breast cancer, we bump into him. I’m glad Merike meets him, though I wish it was in happier circumstances. 1995 Ohnona and I take a trip to The Banﬀ Television Festival. At a buﬀet table, David Thompson of the BBC suddenly comes up to me but only because I’m standing in front of the shrimp. I say “Speak of the devil” and tell him about Hungry Hills while he loads his plate. He graciously agrees to have a copy of the script put into his Festival mailbox, and lugs it back to London. July, 1995 I get a letter from David Thompson’s Script Editor for Single Drama, Claire Hirsch: “I was glad to have the chance to read such a compelling, raw and vividly evoked tragedy. Unfortunately, we are sadly unable to consider it for production as it has no direct British content.” I’m thrilled. It’s a highlight. This is so much better than the usual response to script submissions. She goes on to write: “Do let us know if you succeed in getting the ﬁlm produced as we would of course love to see it.” Thrilled even more, I ﬁle the letter in the hope that it will hasten production. Still 1995, Toronto I get together with director Steve DiMarco, who has given me notes on the latest draft of Hungry Hills. He’s a terriﬁc director. I’ve seen him work on The Odyssey. We discuss Hungry Hills. Mary, David and I try for ﬁnancing. Brian Freeman eventually takes Hungry Hills to the CBC, with Steve as director. A circular moment: the distributor waits for a CBC pre-sale. The CBC waits for Teleﬁlm. Teleﬁlm waits for the distributor’s commitment letter. The distributor waits for a CBC pre-sale…. And around and around we go. May 1996 People must eat. Mary ceases to be a director of our company and goes on to pursue her interest in making documentaries. David Ohnona goes to work in television. Helicon Pictures, my own company, is paying legal fees, annual filing fees, and option fees. Productions Inc. (BC) will eventually dissolve. October 1996 Things fall apart. Everything falls apart. It is Merike’s fifth cancer year. After a surprise call from the Cancer Clinic we both know. I’m trying to work on a rewrite of Open Season for Josh Miller. I finish it and looking ahead I realize that work doesn’t matter right now. I look after Merike. I do the best I can but I fall short. She is dignified and gentle; worried about those she’ll leave behind. The Tibetan Buddhists are right: it is a gift to look after the dying. 1998 Rob King is producing and directing on a show called Incredible Story Studio. Creators and producers Virginia Thompson and Rob De Lint are looking for someone to run the story department. Rob gets me a phone interview and absents himself. I tell the creators that most children’s television is actually television 25
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for parents. It’s an appropriate thing to say for their show. They oﬀer me the job. I take it and go to Regina, Saskatchewan for the ﬁrst time. It reminds me of where I grew up in Alberta. I work on season two of the show and meet a lot of the people who will eventually work on George Ryga’s Hungry Hills. 1999 People must eat. I write for my ﬁrst video game, Jackie Chan’s Stuntmaster and go back to Regina for season three of Story Studio. 2000 I take season four oﬀ and go sojourning alone for ﬁve months. I write two episodes of Story Studio in London and email them back to Saskatchewan. I meet my boss Virginia for dinner at the Russell Square Hotel. Disney Europe is involved at this point, so the show is being shot in Ireland. I meet up with everyone in Galway. Rob is there, directing. After a brief visit, I retire to Bath, England for nine weeks. I’m in Weston-super-mare on a day trip. Overlooking the Bristol Channel is a hill I once walked with my late wife. I revisit it. A wind comes up and blows on my face: a part of my life is over. I go home to Vancouver. Everything comes together again. The option on Hungry Hills has lapsed. I re-option the novel. 2001 Another summer in Regina. I ﬁnish season ﬁve of Incredible Story Studio and come back to Vancouver. 2002 I hear of Teleﬁlm Canada’s Low Budget Independent Feature Film program for director-driven projects and send the script to Rob King. He’s since left Minds Eye Pictures to focus solely on directing. We need a producing partner. Rob recommends, and I agree: it’s got to be Rhonda Baker. We apply to Teleﬁlm and are turned down. The ﬁlm really needs a bigger budget. I’d thought that a few locations and a limited cast would make the budget low. Unfortunately, I forgot about horses, period vehicles and costumes, and night shooting….. Still, it’s do-able. Right? 2004 The option comes up for renewal. Again. I’m broke and Rob splits the payment with me. To make a living I go on to other things. Script editing. Cartoons. Spec scripts. January 2005 I begin to teach two courses at Langara College in the new Film Arts Program. September 30, 2006 The option lapses. We no longer have the rights to the novel. Rob and I have a serious discussion about whether to continue. We decide to give it another try. We re-option the book and split the cost. It’s for two years ending November 30, 2008. The script is about as good as it is going to get – I think. I’ve seen the talent in Saskatchewan, the resourcefulness of keys and crew, the unique production value available there, the producing skills of Rhonda Baker and the Qu’Appelle Valley. Locations manager Bill Sorochan took me there on a scout when we worked on Incredible Story Studio. It was the beginning of an episode set in 1870, which won the series a Gemini for Best Youth or Children’s Program. The Qu’Appelle Valley will be where Rob ﬁnds the hungry hills: he’ll go to the bottom of the valley and look around. July 2007 Avi Federgreen meets Rob who’s directing Rabbit Fall in Sas-
katoon. Avi asks Rob if he has any feature projects. Rob gives him two scripts. Avi reads Hungry Hills, turns the last page, and calls him. He says: “We’re going to make this film, I promise you.” October 2007 Avi meets with Jennifer Jonas of New Real Films in Toronto. We’re hung up on ﬁnancing. Rob phones me. We discuss how we are stalled, beaten-up, and broke. With Rhonda, Rob and my blessings Avi takes the script to New Real Films. Jennifer and Leonard Farlinger read the script and say “this story should be told.” New Real agrees to help us in whatever capacity we want. We bring Avi aboard and New Real comes on as executive producers. I look at the script and get ready for more revisions. Script Notes 1992 to 2008 Many people have commented on the script throughout all the preceding years. The script changes, gathers dust, is picked up again, gets dusty again. It evolves. I get closer and closer to what it is about; to how it must be different from the book but at its heart, the same. Here is the most important note I got. It’s from Bill Hurst out of the western Telefilm office: I don’t think you’re quite achieving the note of triumph you want to have at the conclusion. Damn it, he’s right. I want an audience to see what George Ryga called the heroics of survival. I find the answer where the answer is usually found: in the script in front me and its patterns. It’s satisfying. It’s a creative high. June 2008 Rob gives Gerard Demaer the script. Gerard reads the script and can’t put it down. He knows Rob and Rhonda and what they are capable of doing. After a meeting with Rhonda he comes in with private money. I thought all private investment in Canada had disappeared during the tax-shelter years. Who is this guy? July/ August 2008 I formally propose that the director and the writer share ownership. We’ll all invest our fees to help ﬁnance the picture. If there are rewards, they will come later. As a WGC member, I’ll ask the Writers Guild for permission to use the Optional Incentive Plan for Feature Films, under Article C-204. We go ahead with an application to Teleﬁlm for production funding with a budget and ﬁnancing scenario prepared by Rhonda Baker. October, 2008 I send a check to re-option the novel. The option expires on November 30. The script is ﬁnished…except for production changes. I send it to the publisher, Karl Siegler at Talonbooks. October 23, 2008 Karl replies: “Though the details of plot and character are changed, as you’d told me they inevitably would be, I was expecting something from the ﬁlm adaptation that strayed far away from George Ryga’s novel. I ﬁnd instead that your ﬁlm script is actually an elaboration of the sensibilities George was giving expression to in Hungry Hills.” I’m relieved and pleased. November, 2008 I haven’t heard back from the new administrator for the rights to the novel. Just in case I don’t hear back before the option expires, I write a check for the purchase price. Payment will exercise the option. I leave it behind in an addressed envelope. The check is secured by my apartment.
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“The script changes, gathers dust, is picked up again, gets dusty again. It evolves. I get closer and closer to what it is about; to how it must be different from the book but at its heart, the same.” - Gary Fisher, on the evolution of the script
Mid-November 2008, Mexico I’m on vacation in the desert in the middle of nowhere. It’s dead quiet. The house has satellite internet and I have my laptop. I have not heard back from the owner of the underlying rights. I’m worried that I’ll lose the rights during the processing and evaluation of our application to Teleﬁlm. Push comes to shove. I email Vancouver and have the check I left behind sent by registered mail. Upon receipt, the option is exercised. Helicon Pictures owns the rights. When I ﬁnally check web-mail, it’s Rob. We got ﬁnanced. We’re making Hungry Hills. He wishes I was there to celebrate the good news. A day or so later I hear that in order to secure this ﬁnancing we must ﬁnish all the paperwork by November 28 because of an internal deadline, a directive from Teleﬁlm head oﬃce in Montreal. November 28 is only two days after I get back from Mexico. The house is being painted, there in the desert, by two men. Flecks of white paint drift down onto my laptop as I stand at a kitchen counter and email for an entire day. When the painters’ workday ends, so does mine. The contrast in our respective activities is striking. I make typing motions with my hands, then point to my head. They laugh. I wonder what these guys do on vacation. Do they come up to Vancouver and email? November 26, 2008 I get oﬀ the plane. Over the next ten days, knives on the table, we negotiate the Co-Production Agreement. The resulting company has four equal partners: Rhonda (RGB), Avi (Federgreen Ent.), Rob (Rattlesnake), and me (Helicon). Everyone defers their fees. Jennifer and Leonard of New Real defer their fees. December 2008 I talk on the phone to the brand new rights administrator, who is just getting up to speed on the many ﬁles associated with George Ryga’s literary estate. January 2009 The year of the rewrite over, Rob and I meet with Teleﬁlm and they come through with money for casting and scouting. We’re under the gun because of weather. The valley will green-up in late spring. Avi puts us in touch with casting directors John Buchan and Jason Knight, who work with casting director Carmen Kotyk and Rob. They are all invaluable. Audition tapes are sent around. Rob and I talk through the script. We end up with a wonderful cast. April 2009 I ﬂy up to Regina for the last few days of pre-production. I drop my suitcase on the ﬂoor of the production oﬃce and look around. I can’t really believe this is happening. There are a lot of familiar faces. DOP Ken Krawczyk walks into the oﬃce: “What’s with the monkey suit?” Rhonda’s in her oﬃce on the phone, in front of her computer. Jennifer Jonas and Leonard Farlinger have ﬂown in. I meet Avi Federgreen for the ﬁrst time in person. I meet Gerard Demaer. And we all go for dinner. April 27, 2009 I’m making production changes to the script. I meet Leonard and Jennifer just before they ﬂy home after seeing the ﬁrst day of shooting. They show me their still pictures of what went on. cont. on page 28
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& Television Forum for the 2009 season of the VIFF. I’m thrilled to back in the festival realm again; trying to make sense of the dizzying world of ﬁlm & tv content creation in 2009. It will be a Forum to remember. And the guest list for 2009 is impressive, if I do say so myself! When the VIFF is over in October, I’ll be joining forces with other producers to get back into tv production again. The entertainment landscape may never be the same in Canada, but I’m ready for what comes next – bring it! Q
Beginnings cont. from page 11
Finding this Land cont. from page 19 it has told its stories. “I was fortunate when I was growing up that I had access to the NFB,” says Allison. “My uncle was a teacher and he would bring a projector home and show the ﬁlms. When I had the opportunity to work with the NFB it felt like an honor because I had been a big fan of the ﬁlms and had been inﬂuenced by movies like Bill Mason’s (1966 Oscar winner) Paddle to the Sea. It made a lot of sense to us to make this movie because the NFB and Farley Mowat had such an impact on us. The coming together of all these things just felt right.” Whelan says her life’s inﬂuences include the NFB environmental ﬁlm If You Love This Planet that she ﬁrst saw when she was 17. “It was a ﬁlm that called people to action and after I saw it I became an activist for a period of time. I could see that there was an alternative to living under the threats to the environment. Usually ﬁlm is all about proﬁt but so many of the National Film Board ﬁlms are about our culture and the Canadian identity and what we care about. I think you want to be sincere about that. I remember going to Australia and discovering that when you talked about making a ﬁlm with the NFB it opened doors. People have incredible respect for the NFB. They may not know who Global and CTV are but they know about the NFB.” Q vancouvershoppingbyappointment.com (604) 644.9951
April 28, 2009 I drive out with Rob on the second day of shooting. It’s been his ﬁlm to make for a long time now. We see spring snow on the hills. July 23, 2009 I’m in Regina again. Avi’s ﬂown up from Toronto. I’m in the editing room with Rob and editor Jackie Dzuba. They’ve been wrestling with the cut for weeks, ﬁelding notes from all quarters. It’s down to the wire. The four partners sign oﬀ on the cut. There is a second conference call with Teleﬁlm. The picture is locked and goes to Talking Dog Post and Sound. August 4, 2009 The Toronto International Film Festival announces its selection of Canadian films for 2009. Rob is there. He calls me on his cell and tells me there was a huge rainstorm. The heavens opened. And we are in the Festival. Q Staying Hungry cont. from page 27
its Board of Directors. An NSI spokesperIndustry Leaders cont. from page 30 son said Raja Khanna, Co-CEO of GlassBOX Television Inc., and co-founder of QuickPlay Media Inc., and Brad Pelman, COO of Maple Pictures are the new co-chairs. A spokesperson said Khanna has been on the NSI Board since 2004 and Pelman joined in 2006. “I consider the NSI a leader and innovator in the constantly evolving space of creative media training,” said Khanna. “I am thrilled to be able to work with the incredible NSI team and Board to help support and develop Canada’s next generation of creative media professionals.” Said Pelman, “I echo Raja and would add that the practical approach NSI has applied to pure training and mentorship is aligned with my own personal beliefs on building solid business relationships and successful companies. I hope to make a truly valuable contribution to the organization, its board members and the constituency of our new up and coming participants.” The term as co-chairs is for two years with an option for re-election for a subsequent term. Pelman and Khanna replace outgoing chair Jamie Brown of Frantic Films who will remain on the Board. In addition to the co-chairs and Brown the Board executive includes the National Film Board’s Cindy Witten, Canwest’s Christine Shipton, Manitoba Lotteries’ Marlene Kendall and film and television consultant Louise Clark. The Board’s at large members are CFTPA president and CEO Norm Bolen, Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television past chair Paul Gratton, APTN’s Jean LaRose, industry consultants Mary Powers and Bruce Leslie, lawyer Michael A. Levine, S-Vox president and CEO Bill Roberts, NBC Universal Television Distribution VP Ron Suter and Manitoba Film & Music CEO and film commissioner Carole Vivier. Q 28
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Rights acquisitions complicate the telling of life stories Larry Sugar, a local producer wellknown for his extensive resume, has recently acquired the rights to the Reena Virk story. By now, most, if not all, Canadians know the story of Reena Virk. Reena was a fourteen year-old Saanich resident, who, in 1997, was swarmed, badly beaten, and drowned by a group of teenage girls and one boy after being lured to a party. The story was shocking for so many reasons, among them its brutality, the age of the victim and the attackers, and the seeming lack of motive or reason. It is a story that needs to be told, but along with making ﬁlms that portray truelife events come responsibilities and challenges for the producers. There is a great deal of confusion regarding the acquisition of life rights, and there are very few consistent principles for producers to follow. The main issue faced by producers who desire to create a ﬁlm based on someone’s life is whether they need a life rights agreement in order to make their ﬁlm. Although there are a lot of variables that can come into play in these situations, generally speaking, if you are telling someone’s life story, or any part thereof, you need to obtain a release for any material that the subject shares with you. The right to someone’s life story is protected by a few diﬀerent areas of the law, including the right to privacy, publicity and the right not to be defamed. It is interesting to note that in the USA, these rights are governed by state law and can diﬀer signiﬁcantly from state to state. One exception to the rule occurs when you are interviewing a subject about public facts or are using media sources to gather information already in the public sphere. In these cases a producer likely will not require a release. However, there are no absolute guidelines for producers to follow, and therefore they must always exercise caution if they wish to portray a living person in their ﬁlm. Without a release, a producer, even when using information that is publicly available or interviewing a subject about public information, could face the risk of a defamation lawsuit, or a claim by the subject that they had a reasonable expectation that they were entitled to REEL WEST SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009
compensation for their services. Another common area of confusion for producers is whether life story rights are required where a subject is deceased. The right of privacy and the right to protect your reputation are rights that expire upon death; however, certain other rights may survive the death of the subject. Also, there are certain circumstances, such as where the subject was a celebrity and where the right of publicity may survive the death of the subject. Additionally, although a release may not be required for the subject, this does not preclude other people (i.e. family or friends of the deceased subject) from commencing a lawsuit based on invasion of privacy or defamation if they are alive and are used in the story-telling process. In some cases, a producer can ﬁctionalize such characters, but there is always the possibility that they will still be identiﬁable. The issue of life rights can create a great deal of confusion. The rights that a producer is required to obtain depend on a number of factors, that will diﬀer from ﬁlm to ﬁlm, including how much of the life story is in the public domain, whether the subject of the life story is alive or dead, whether the producer has personal knowledge of the events, and whether, if you elect to ﬁctionalize all or certain characters within the story, the producer has done so in such a way as to suﬃciently make the characters unidentiﬁable. Generally speaking, it is always a good idea to get a life rights release, and, where the subject is deceased and a life rights agreement may not be strictly necessary, as is the unfortunate case of Reena Virk, to work with the family and friends of the subject. This will help ensure that the story is told in the most accurate, insightful, and genuine way possible and can also help guarantee that the producer will not face any potential legal claims in the future. Lori Massini’s practice focuses on the entertainment industry, assisting clients with all aspects of entertainment law from drafting agreements and negotiating the hiring of actors, writers, and directors to advising musicians and recording artists.
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Jibber Jabber won four Gemini Award nominations
Geminis Kind to West Two Manitoba productions led all western Canadian shows with nine Gemini Award nominations when nominees were announced in late August. This year’s Industry Gala awards shows will be held in Toronto on October 19 and 20 while the Broadcast Gala will be held November 14 in Calgary. Less Than Kind is nominated for best comedy program with four of its directors and two of its actors winning nominations in their category. James Dunnison, Kelly Makin, Henry Sarwer-Foner and Shawn Alex Thompson are nominated for best director of a comedy program while Brooke Palsson and Benjamin Arthur are nominated for their performances in the show. Mark McKinney won a writing nomination and Susan Forrest, Shane Forrest and Jim Heber were nominated for casting the series. Diamonds won a Best Dramatic Mini-Series nomination as well as a best sound nomination and category nominations for direction (Andy Wilson), writing (David Vainola), production design (Delarey Wagener and Craig Sandells), score (Adrian Johnston), actress (Joanne Kelly and Judy Davis) and supporting actress (Louise Rose.) Another Manitoba-set production,
Elijah, won four nominations including one for Best TV Movie and one for best sound. Vancouver-based writer Blake Corbet won a writing nomination while Terry Frewer won a nomination for best score. CBC News at Six Manitoba won nominations for best newscast and best news anchor (Jane Stewart.) Four BC shows won multiple nominations. Sanctuary won six nominations including two nominations in the visual eﬀects category and four in the dramatic series category. Steven Adelson is nominated for best direction while acting nominees are Robin Dunne, Amanda Tapping and Christopher Heyerdahl. Jibber Jabber won four nominations including best animated program, best director of an animated program (David Bowes), best writing in a children’s program (Victor Nicolle, Sandy Flanagan and Dennis Heaton) and best score for an animated program (Michael Plowman.) Stargate Atlantis won three nominations including writing in a dramatic series (Brad Wright), costume design (Valerie Halverson) and make-up (Todd Masters, Leah Ehman, Holland Miller, Brad Proctor and Kyla Rose Tremblay); and Point Grey Pictures won three nominations in the documentary category for The Wild Horse Re-
demption including direction (John Zaritsky), photography (Ian Kerr, John Collins) and score (Daniel Seguin.) Alberta’s In A World Created by a Drunken God won nominations for Best TV Movie, best editing (Jonathan Baltrusaitis) and best actor (Trevor Duplessis) while Secret of the Nutcracker won nominations for Best TV Movie and production design (Louise Middleton.) Saskatchewan’s Wapos Bay has two directing nominations. Both Cam Lizotte and Dennis Jackson are competing in the animated program category. Other western nominees included Robson Arms’ Gabrielle Miller who won a supporting actress in a drama nomination; Wild Roses, which won a production design nomination for Louise Middleton; X-Weighted, which is nominated in the Personal/Human Interest show category; Peace Warrior which sees Sara Darling and Sue Ridout nominated for Best Biography Documentary Program; Moccasin Flats, which won a nomination in the supporting actress in a drama category for Tiio Horn; Carts of Darkness, which sees Michael Brockington nominated for documentary editing and The Week the Women Went, a nominee in the reality program category.
West Heads East Several western Canadian ﬁlmmakers will be taking movies to the Toronto International Film Festival. The west is sending three of the six ﬁlms selected to take part in the Canada First! section including British Columbia ﬁlmmaker Sook-Yin Lee’s Year of the Carnivore, described by Festival programmers as a romanticcomedy-drama about a girl with an unrequited crush on a boy who thinks she’s bad in bed. To defy him she goes out to get more “experience.” The section also includes Saskatchewan director Rob King’s
George Ryga’s HUNGRY HILLS, which is based on Ryga’s story of a teenager’s struggle to revive a family farm in the foothills of northern Alberta during the Depression and BC’s Canada/USA co-production Machotaildrop, directed by Corey Adams and Alex Craig, which follows a teen skateboarder as he’s recruited by a legendary company to be their next big star. The Contemporary World Cinema section will host BC ﬁlmmaker Blaine Thurrier’s A Gun to the Head, the story of a former hood who is dragged back into a world of drugs, women, guns and gangsters endangering the lives of those he loves the most. Also selected from BC for the section are Carl Bessai’s Cole and Bruce Sweeney’s Excited while Winnipeg-based ﬁlmmaker Gary Yates is taking High Life to the section. Cole stars Richard de Klerk as a young man who wants to write his way out of small-town Lytton, B.C. and his job at the family gas station while Excited tells the story of a man who thinks he has just met the woman of his dreams, but discovers that the romance is complicated by his meddling, oﬃcious mother and his inability to confront or discuss his sexual hang-ups. High Life is the story of two drug-addled brothers who go for one last major score. BC director Vic Sarin will be taking A Shine of Rainbows to the Festival’s Sprockets Family Zone section. The Canada/Ireland coproduction tells the story of a woman who helps an Irish orphan ﬁnd self-acceptance and love through magic. The Festival runs from September 10 to September 19.
Board Includes Industry Leaders The National Screen Institute recently announced that executives from two of Canada’s leading ﬁlm and television companies have been elected to co-chair cont. on page 28
Announcements and Appointments CTV has announced that Malcolm Fox has retired from the position of executive producer of its investigative program W-FIVE. The network said he will be replaced by Anton Koschany, who started his career as a news reporter for Vancouver-based BCTV, now known as Global British Columbia…Maple Pictures co-president Jim Sherry has left his position but will continue as a senior consultant according to the Toronto-based distribution company. Sherry has been co-president, with Laurie May, since January of 2008…Jay Ingram, the co-host and producer of the Discovery Channel program, was recently named a member of the Order of Canada… 30
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Published on Sep 24, 2009
Reel West Magazine is an award winning publication for the film and television industries in western Canada. Our magazine is published 6 tim...