September / October 2011
Film, video, internet and digital production in Western CanAda
Actors-turned-producers Chad Willet & Joely Collins:
Docs • Sunflower Hour
Fe st on iva th l s ei up r po fa r vo te ur rs it Re e f Ye le ar c
VI FF tu rn s
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16 My Favourite Year
A dozen longtime supporters of the Vancouver International Film Festival talk about the year they remember the most as the Festival gets ready to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary.
5 bits and bytes
19 Men at work Only two comedy shows, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory are still consistently competitive with
Production Update Legal BrIEFS
their rival genres. Lee Aronsohn, one of two men involved with both of the shows, ventures north to VIFF’s Film
12 Behind the Scenes
+ Trade Forum to talk about the work that went into keeping Two and a Half Men on the air.
14 Question and Answer
20 Adjusting for balance Documentary films have lost some of their objectivity in recent years thanks to the popularity of the films of Michael Moore. Four western Canadian docs headed to VIFF seek balance while examining extremely controversial subjects.
15 Expert witness 29 Reel West Profile 30 FINAL EDIT
22 trading places Actors have been producing movies since the beginning of the studio system. Vancouver actors Chad Willett and Joely Collins went looking for a project to produce and found two potential productions. They opted to start their producing careers with the smaller of the two, a family drama called Becoming Redwood.
26 Sunflower Power
The prestigious Karlovy Vary film festival in the Czech Republic premiered a low budget Vancouver film called Sunflower Hour to rave reviews. As it comes back to Canada for the Vancouver Film Festival, director Aaron Houston looks back at his battle to get the mockumentary made and the pressures that come with international acclaim.
Cover: Chad Willett and Joely Collins (with dog dexter) produced Becoming Redwood through their company StoryLab Productions; photo by Andrés Salas Contents: Ryan Grantham as Redwood; photo by Andrés Salas 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. 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 2010 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: firstname.lastname@example.org URL: www.reelwest.com. Volume 26, Issue 5. Printed In Canada. 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 email@example.com or by fax at 604-451-7305. All correspondence must include your name, address, and daytime telephone number.
Reel West September / October 2011
What’s coming. What’s shooting. What’s wrapped.
Amy Adams (pictured here in The Fighter) will play Lois Lane in the upcoming film Man of Steel Photo by jojo whilden
Hollywood Still Coming North
Stars from several eras are descending on BC this fall. Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Shia LaBeouf and Susan Sarandon will be arriving for Redford’s The Company You Keep while Oscar-winners Matt Damon and Jodie Foster will still be in town with Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium and Man of Steel will be showcasing Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Amy Adams.
The Company You Keep has LaBeouf playing a young reporter out to find the last Weatherman Underground fugitive (Redford) and has Shawn Williamson and Craig Flores as executive producers, Bill Holderman as producer, Laurence Bennett as production designer, Paul Lukaitis as production manager, Melissa Barrie as production coordinator and Terry MacKay as location manager.
Returning here for a third time is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. The latest edition, Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days brings back series stars Steve Zahn and Devon Bostick and has Jeremiah Samuels as executive producer, Brad Simpson and Nina Jacobson as producers, David Bowers directing, Tony Richmond as DOP, Brent Thomas as production designer, Drew Locke as produc-
tion manager, Susan Crawford as production coordinator and Bruce Brownstein as location manager. Gay Dude, which tells the story of two men who vow to be lifelong friends until one comes out of the closet, has David Blackman producing, Chris Foss as line producer/ production manager, Chris Nelson as director, David Jones as DOP, Geoff Wallace as production designer, Donald Munro as production coordinator and Ken Brooker as location manager. The locally produced film Becoming Redwood left at the end of August after a month of shooting. Chad Willett and Joely Collins produced and Jesse James Miller directed the movie, which has Willett, Jennifer Copping and Ryan Grantham as a young family that breaks up when the mother returns to the US. The line producer/production manager was Susan Derkson, the DOP was David Crone, the production designer was Chad Krowchuk, the production coordinator was Darlene Choo and the location manager was Sarah Done. Another local film will take its place when Primary arrives in October. The movie has Ross Ferguson and Vince Prokop producing with Ferguson directing and Louis Webster as executive producer. The movie of the week Innocent brings Bill Pullman here to play a judge who was cleared of killing his mistress 20 years ago and is now on trial for killing his wife. It has Mike Robe and Frank Von Zerneck as executive producers with Robe directing and Lisa Richardson producing. The line producer is Holly Redford,
Reel West September / October 2011
the DOP is John Bartley, the production designer is Eric Fraser, Todd Pittson is the production manager, Louisa Main is the production coordinator and Alan Bartolic is the location manager. Here until the end of August was the MOW Shrinking Violet, which had Debby Ryan playing a painfully shy teenager who works part time as a disc jockey at a radio station. It had Kim Arnott, Oliver De Caigny and Jane Goldenring as executive producers with Mandy SpencerPhillips as line producer/production manager, Peter Howitt directing, Kamal Derkaoui as DOP, Troy Hansen as production designer, Micah Gardener as production coordinator and Kirk Johns as location manager. Two television movies are shooting back to back. Goodnight for Justice 2 and Goodnight for Justice 3 have Luke Perry returning to play frontier judge John Goodnight. Perry, John Morayniss, Noreen Halpern and Ira Pincus are executive producers with K.T. Donaldson the director, Randolph Cheveldave producing, David Pelletier as the DOP, Paul Joyal as the production designer, Michelle
Samulels as the production manager, Teri Garbutt as the production coordinator and Tom Hoeverman as the location manager. They start in early August and are scheduled to wrap on September 22. The TV series Alcatraz and Arctic Air are here until January. Alcatraz, which brings viewers back and forth between the present and the past at the iconic prison has J.J. Abrams, Liz Sarnoff and Bryan Burk as executive producers with Robert Williams Jr. the producer, David Stockton and Stephen McNutt as DOPs, Mark Freeborn as production designer, Wayne Bennett as production manager, Jennifer Metcalf as production coordinator and Michael Roberts and Greg Jackson as location managers. Arctic Air stars Adam Beach and Kevin McNulty as bush pilots and has Michael Chechik, Gabriela Schonbach, Gary Harvey and Ian Weir as executive producers with Ian Hay as line producer, Bruce Worrall as DOP, Matthew Budgeon as production designer, Simon Richardson as production manager, Michael Lien as production coordinator and Kendrie Upton as location manager. n
Nunavut Production Greenlit
A proposed film from Nunavut was one of four English-language feature films to receive money from the Canada Feature Film Fund in its August announcement. The production, titled The Mithras Conspiracy, was written and directed by Chris MacBride and looks at how a movie concept about global conspiracy theories goes awry when the subject of the film disappears. “This new crop of regional English-language projects is very promising,” said Michel Pradier, Director of Project Financing at Telefilm Canada. “The subjects are diverse and the creators are talented. Telefilm believes these bold, innovative projects will contribute to the development of Canadian talent and have wide audience appeal at home and abroad.” Spokesperson Douglas Chow said that to be eligible as a regional project, the project must have a budget under $2.5 million and request a contribution of less than $750,000 from Telefilm. Other productions receiving funds were Newfoundland’s Beat Down, Quebec’s Stay and Ontario’s Dead Before Dawn. Reel West September / October 2011
Bits and Bytes Element Acquired California-based 3ality Digital recently announced it has acquired Element Technica, a manufacturer of S3D camera rigs. A spokesperson said the buying of Element gives 3ality Digital an in-house manufacturing and design capability, and the opportunity to further expand its R&D infrastructure. He said that the companies will be housed in the 3ality Digital headquarters in Burbank. “As our primary competitor, we have always had great respect for Element Technica and their achievements,” said 3ality Technica CEO Steve Schklair. “The complete compatibility and lack of redundancy between the companies has made this an ideal acquisition, strengthening the Company’s position to provide the most advanced and dependable S3D solutions to the market. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this acquisition will be to the motion picture and broadcast producers who will now have an unprecedented amount of tools and technology tailored to meet their specific need.” Schklair said the two companies will help push 3D production to levels of integration and refinement “previously unmatched.” He said upcoming movies that have utilized the companies’ services include The Amazing Spider-Man, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Prometheus, Underworld 4, Oz, and The Great Gatsby.
3-D Movies Soar An HIS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence report says that Global box-office revenue from 3-D movie screens soared to $6.1 billion in 2010, more than double the $2.5 billion generated in 2009. According to the report, international screens accounted for $3.9 billion or 63.9 percent of the market, up from 53.8 percent in 2009. “This run of growth in international markets has helped to achieve a current worldwide total in excess of 30,000 3-D screens as of June 2011, more than double the number at the same point last year,” said Charlotte Jones, senior analyst for cinema at IHS. “And at least one in four of the world’s screens is now 3-D-capable. But despite impressive 3-D screen growth internationally, the global market still is dominated by U.S. releases, which accounted for more than 90 percent of revenue from international 3-D screens.” The report said North American screens have 36.1 percent of the 3-D screen market. The market was the world’s single biggest 3-D market with $2.0 billion in box-office revenue, taking in the largest share at 32.8 percent, down from 42.3 percent in 2009. Overall, global 3-D screens represented 19.3 percent of world box-office receipts in 2010, up from 8.6 percent in 2009.
Thin Air for Thinware Vancouver’s Thinware Media recently ventured high into the clouds with its SuperCAP concept, which is reputed to be the first web-delivered system for digital content. It helped Thinware land in the final group of 25 companies in the BCIC-New Ventures Competition. According to Thinware spokesperson Tom Leslie, the New Ventures is one of North America’s largest technology business idea competitions. Leslie said the acclaim comes from the fact that StudioCAP is changing the way DCC businesses create and manage content. (DCC is the creation and modification of digital content, such as animation, audio, graphics, images and video, as part of the production process before presentation in its final medium.) “It is the first webdelivered and most comprehensive computer aided production system for the DCC market. StudioCAP eliminates and/or automates many expensive and timely manual processes, improves control of digital assets, and features built-in project planning and budgeting.” Leslie said Thinware was founded by current CEO Mark Rocchio, who worked with Studio B productions (now DHX Media Vancouver) to develop a digital animation pipeline now considered, according to Leslie, to be one of the most efficient in the industry.
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Wesley French and Sara Podemski in APTN’s Cashing In
Still Cashing In
APTN recently announced that it has greenlit a third season of the half-hour drama Cashing In. The series tells the story of high stakes gaming on the fictional Stonewalker First Nations reserve in southern Manitobe. It stars Eric Schweig, Karen Holness, Glen Gould, Wesley French, Sarah Podemski, Gregory Odjig and Tina Keeper. According to spokesperson RoseAnna Schick, the third season was shot on location in Winnipeg and rural locations “in and around Bird’s Hill, Selkirk, Lockport and Scanterbury, Manitoba.” She said the new season sees seven new half-hour episodes premiering on APTN, in addition to seven episodes shot last season, and six episodes from season one. Schick said the show has been a strong proponent of training initiatives with a number of training positions filled by Aboriginal crew each season. She said they range from entry-level internships to key position upgrades. “Training has also taken place for a number of screenwriters, producers and directors, who were mentored in their specific areas. In season three, one episode was directed by Tracey Deer, who was a director trainee in season one, and director observer in season two.” The series is directed by Norma Bailey and is a coproduction between Kistikan Pictures, Inc. in association with Buffalo Gal Pictures Inc. and Animiki See Digital Productions Inc. The executive Producers are Phyllis Laing and Bailey and the producers are Vanessa Loewen, Jean du Toit and Keeper. 6
Reel West September / October 2011
Features First Sets Deadline The National Screen Institute (NSI) Features First program has announced that it is looking for filmmaking teams to apply for training. The program prepares filmmakers for production through customized, intensive training and mentoring with industry professionals. It aims to help filmmakers hone their script while also understanding many other aspects of feature film development. A spokesperson for the Manitoba-based organization says members of the team selected will not have to relocate. “Teams must apply with a feature film script,” said spokesperson Lauren MacDiarmid. “Up to four teams are chosen for this 10-month, three-phase
program and are selected by NSI based on the strength of their script and the potential development and packaging of their film projects. The curriculum includes script and story development, market research, compliance with legal requirements, pitching, financing, distribution as well as marketing and sales training - delivered by leaders in the Canadian film industry.” MacDiarmid said NSI is introducing tuition into its training programs: $1,000 per selected participant. If a team is selected to the NSI Features First program, each team member is required to pay $1,000 by Monday December 12, 2011. The deadline for the next period of applications is October 12, 2011.
Opportunity Knocks for Horror Fans
Fans of horror films will get a chance to make a movie this fall. The 8th annual BloodShots 48-Hour Horror Filmmaking Contest takes place at Vancouver’s Rio Theatre on October 27th. Producers have from October 21 till October 23 to get their films produced. “As hundreds of DV filmmakers the world over have already learned, making a short film in one weekend can be terrifying,” says organizer Kier-La Janisse, a founder of the Cinemuerte Film Festival. “Lack of sleep is just the beginning of your problems when you are trying to corral actors into repeating their performance with more energy at five in the morning and you know you have only got another six hours to get a final edit of your masterpiece put together.” La Janisse said anyone can enter the competition, which has a grand prize of $1000. “There are no age restrictions and entry is open to amateurs and professionals alike. No one helping with the film, however, can be paid.” For further information contact email@example.com Reel West September / October 2011
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Prairie Passion A film about growing up in 1962 in Winnipeg has been chosen to have its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Passionflower, which marks the directorial debut of Winnipeg writer/director Shelagh Carter, is set in Manitoba and stars newcomer Kassidy Brown as Sarah, a girl increasingly challenged and confused by her mother’s instability. “Shelagh grew up in Winnipeg and was able to use locations she remembered from her childhood,”
said spokesperson Angela Heck. “It’s also the first feature film for Kassidy and Shelagh couldn’t be happier with the results.” Heck said Passionflower was produced by Polly Washburn with Joy Loewen and Hersh Seth the associate producers, Andrew Forbes the DOP, Michael Reisacher the editor and Ricardo Alms the production designer and art director. In addition to Brown, the film stars Kristen Harris, Susan Kelso and Rebecca Gibson.
The Definitive Producing Workbook For the producer, the world of independent film and television production is often surrounded by a sea of paperwork. The contracts, documents and requirements of agencies are constantly in flux. Nothing is definitive, every contract has its own set of particulars and every deal is different. "Boilerplate" agreements are open to negotiation. Rules can be flexible. The PW4 will help guide a producer through some of the overwhelming volume of documents involved in the world of independent film and television production. Legal writers review the standard clauses and reveal issues of concern to producers negotiating contracts. Many sample agreements are included for reference. The book provides a comprehensive overview of national and provincial funding bodies and engaging stories and words of wisdom by seasoned producers.
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A one hour Vancouver-produced documentary series about female detectives has returned to the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN.) Murder She Solved: True Crime, returned for a second season in September to tell istories of investigators who crack open complex homicide cases and help bring justice to the families of victims. “We’re thrilled to bring audiences a new season of Murder She Solved: True Crime,” says executive producer John Ritchie of Vancouver-based Force Four Entertainment. “This series was our first foray into factual crime programming. Viewers responded so positively we will return with eight new episodes this fall. The broad appeal of this series, which draws upon the suspense and intrigue of real police cases, reflects our ongoing commitment to compelling storytelling.” The show was developed in association with Mystique Films and developed and produced in collaboration with Corus Entertainment’s OWN. According to spokesperson Andrew Poon, each episode focuses on a different high-profile murder case, told from the perspective of the female investigator who played a key role in cracking the case. Reel West September / October 2011
Planet welcomes Riskin Edmonton native Dan Riskin, an evolutional biologist, has left the talk show circuit and academia to host the Discovery Channel’s nightly science and technology series Daily Planet. He will co-host the show with Zia Tong. Jodi Cook, a Discovery spokesperson, said Riskin is an expert on bats and has degrees in Biology and Zoology and did post-doctorate studies at Brown University. He was also the host of Discovery’s Monsters
Inside Me on Discovery Science and has made “numerous” appearances on late night talk shows. Cook said Tong and Riskin will go on assignment to report on the latest innovations from Canada, the U.S., Korea, Germany, China, the U.K., Holland and Spain. She said the show will debut new segments on race cars and rocket ships, profile the newest generation of inventors and adventurers and test “gadgets, gizmos and tech toys.”
Walton New Script Czar
Trevor Walton is the new Executive Director, Commissioned and Scripted Programming, for CBC English Services. Walton, who worked most recently as head of co-productions for Echo Bridge Entertainment, was a vice-president for A&E Lifetime and held senior positions in the U.K. and with Fox Network and CBS. “We’re delighted to welcome Trevor to CBC’s arts and entertainment group,” said Kirstine Stewart, a CBC executive vice-president. “His breadth of experience, in Canada, the United States and the U.K., covers a wide range of production, international co-production and talent and creative development, including multi-platform environments. This is an excellent fit with our current strategic plan, Everyone, Every Way, which is all about delivering great Canadian content across all of our platforms.” A spokesperson said Walton conceived and oversaw development and production of the four-hour A&E mini-series Human Trafficking, and has been responsible for commissioning, development, production and post-production of “hundreds of original films and programs,” working with established franchises like BBC’s Doctor Who and CBS’s Hallmark Hall of Fame. Digital Film Gets Boost Western Economic Diversification Canada recently announced that it has allocated funds that will help Graphics Animation and New Media NCE Inc. (GRAND) to “improve technology transfer and research commercialization.” “Our investment in GRAND will help provide enormous benefits for B.C.’s vibrant and growing digital economy,” said Andrew Saxton, a spokesperson for the federal government. “This project will provide new Reel West September / October 2011
technologies, exciting knowledgebased jobs and stronger, more competitive companies.” Saxton said the funding will take place first in British Columbia and then be expanded to Alberta in the second year and “build partnerships and educate the digital media community about GRAND’s activities.” Saxton said the program expects to develop nine technology prototypes, conduct 40 technology demonstrations and bring nine technologies to market.
Dragon’s Fire Discourages Contestant
e’re all fascinated by the amount of TV now devoted to following people in their daily lives, and the extent to which those
Kim Roberts Entertainment Lawyer
people are willing to embarrass themselves on camera. But what if someone is unhappy with the way they’ve been depicted? Can they sue even if they’ve signed a release? A recent case (and the only one of its kind in Canada) heard in Ontario Supreme Court has confirmed that as long as a producer is careful about the way a release is presented to someone appearing on camera and uses language in the release that prevents the subject from suing for defamation, the sky is the limit. The action resulted from an appearance by John Turmel on CBC’s Dragon’s Den. Mr. Turmel is an interesting character who is cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as holding the record for running in the most elections (74 by last count) and also for losing the most. He approached Dragon’s Den with a proposal to use casino chips as currency with local businesses in Brantford. The entrepreneurs on Dragon’s Den were not impressed. One of them said he was “blowing air up a dead horse’s ass” while another commented that he should “burst into flames.” Not surprisingly, he had nothing to show from his appearance on Dragon’s Den except a lot of humiliation. But Mr. Turmel is apparently not someone who gives up easily. Turmel was unhappy with the manner in which his pitch was edited for the program, feeling it made him look like an idiot and sued the CBC for defamation. He actually sued twice – once when the show was first aired and then again with the re-broadcast of the same episode – and lost both times. Turmel’s claims were dismissed on a variety of grounds, the most important of which, for this article, was that the “consent” (or depiction release) signed by Turmel was binding on him
and “a complete bar” to the lawsuit. In addition to signing a depiction release that allowed CBC to use what it taped “in any way or anytime it wished” and that contained a waiver of all claims including defamation, Mr. Turmel had also been given a “Contestant Guide” which stated that: “anything that is discussed on camera can be broadcast on the show.” There was “no guarantee” that a participant would appear on the show or be chosen to receive investment funds from the panel of entrepreneurs and the Guide said “a pitch may take on a life of its own - anything goes.” Instructive for producers who are going down this road are the court’s findings that Mr. Turmel had been provided with the Guide and the release prior to his participation, told to read both carefully, given time to do so and even to have his own lawyer review this material. The court also said that “he made a calculated decision to sign the contract in order to participate in a taping and receive the opportunity to ask the Dragons for a $100,000 investment… He received what he expected.” Mr. Turmel appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal and had that appeal dismissed last month. He has said that he will seek leave from the Supreme Court of Canada. The treatment Mr. Turmel was given on Dragon’s Den has resulted in a ruling from one of Canada’s highest courts that depiction releases will protect producers from defamation actions. However, it can also be seen as a cautionary tale illustrating that care needs to be taken in the selection of participants in reality programming and, more importantly, that there may be limits to how much editing should be done to turn our lives into entertainment. Kim Roberts has been practicing law since 1978. Over the last decade, his practice has increasingly been oriented toward the entertainment industry. Mr. Roberts provides legal advice on a complete range of American and Canadian productions, from features and movies of the week to television series and documentaries. n 9
Photo by Ivan Hughes
Reel West September / October 2011
Angela Heck “We were ‘paid’ in banana splits and bourbon, but it was great fun and built lasting friendships...”
ometimes the toughest thing is starting. Or maybe it’s knowing when you started. If I look back on the last 25 years, it seems like a pingpong game. I’ve been jumping between producing and PR, arts and academia. The path hasn’t always been clear, but I’ve had a great range of experience and adventures that I wouldn’t change for a minute. I grew up in Winnipeg in the 1970s, a place that had arts and culture oozing out of every pore, and still does. As kids, we were lucky enough to have a school system that would send us to the opera for an afternoon or to fabulous plays from Manitoba Theatre for Young People. By the mid-80s, I had graduated high school. I’d studied acting as a teen, and when I started studies at the University of Manitoba, I signed on for a major in political science and a minor in theatre. Winnipeg was gaining a reputation as a hotbed for underground musical talents, punk rock that was noticed in L.A. and New York and innovative visual arts. Alternative theatre was getting legs, Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers were getting funding and the Winnipeg Fringe Festival was started. I found ‘art’ in rundown downtown buildings, suburban yards, and luckily enough, with friends who found it too. My first experience in movie-making was with John Paizs. He was making The Big Crimewave and needed actors. He asked his friends. I played a young mom to the main character’s early Spielbergian dreams. We shot the scene in the old Ellice Theatre. Ellie Harvie played the ticket-taker. Simon Cotton (now co-owner of The Reef on Main in Vancouver) was the guy in line. Mitch Funk, a punk rock icon, played the ‘dad’ and kept apologizing to me for smelling like French fries because he’d just come from his day job. One day, I was tea-dying costumes in the Blackhole Theatre sink at the University of Manitoba when film professor George Toles walked in and said: “My, you look very Icelandic, today.” Three days later I was walking up the stairs of the old Winnipeg Film Group building on Adelaide St. to meet fledgling director Guy Maddin and producer Greg Klymkiw. We shot Tales From the Gimli Hospital on a series of weekends throughout the year. We were “paid” in banana splits and bourbon, but it was great fun and built lasting friendships. I remember the first run of the film very well. I was both the lead actress and the projectionist. Back at university I was taking classes, but living in the world of extracurricular activities. I was active in university theatre, mostly acting and making costumes. If you couldn’t find me there, I was at the Manitoban student newspaper office, sometimes around the clock. I also started picking up some off-campus contracts. At one point I had the keys to four different arts organizations where I was juggling work as a projectionist and marketing assistant (at the National Film Board and Winnipeg Film Group), in costume design and construction (Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers) and bartending (Gas Station Theatre). I picked up regular contracts with the NFB where I painted animation cels, helped coordinate film screenings and was house projectionist at the old Cinema Main in the days when the NFB still had public screenings in its own theatres. It was an exhausting pace but I learned something new every day. I raised some pocket change as a freelance writer. I wrote a story for the SwissAir Gazette. My deadline was September 30, 1991. I was supposed to have it ready three weeks before so I could mail it to Zurich. Then – wow! -- I discovered a fax machine in one of the offices I was working in. I could delay
Reel West September / October 2011
the article at two more weeks and fax it! Yup, things have changed. The juggling act lasted for a few years. In 1992, I turned in the keys and went back to school. I was encouraged to continue my studies and was accepted in the Masters program in political and cultural theory at the University of Victoria. At grad school, I was the communications coordinator for the Graduate Students’ Association, and produced two music festivals in the City of Victoria. My summer job was as an international tour coordinator for the 1994 Commonwealth Games. With event production in my back pocket, I moved to Brandon, Manitoba in 1995 to manage ceremonies, hospitality and protocol for the 1997 Canada Games. The job developed the cultural component of the games, the opening and closing ceremonies, the medals and the evening festivities. After two years of 15-hour days and the best games ever, I found myself back in Winnipeg. The 1999 Pan Am Games were coming up and the University of Manitoba, a major venue for the event, wanted someone to take on internal communications and event management. I signed on. I had drifted into big sports events but my heart stayed in the world of film. I wasn’t satisfied. In 2000 I got a job at the National Film Board as a public relations officer, (a publicist by any other name.) I moved to Vancouver and worked on more than 60 films a year with some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. It was an ideal mix of my academic, communications and film backgrounds. The high point of my time at the NFB was undoubtedly the 2002 Academy Awards. Cordell Barker, a Winnipeg-based animator, had received his second Academy Award nomination, and I was his publicist. It was a massive team effort behind the scenes and I was the person on the ground handling the dayto-day logistics of an Oscar run. There’s nothing quite like being at the biggest party in the film world. The lights of the global media are more intense than you can imagine amidst the chaos outside the Kodak Theatre doors, yet inside it’s an oddly democratic and sane place. It’s as if the celebrities in the room can finally breathe a sigh of relief and relax a bit until the cameras focus on them again. All I can say is pack a lunch, it’s a long day. Then the producing bug hit. With my background in event production and a love of film, it seemed like the next step. In 2002, I teamed up with Ivan Hughes to produce the documentary In the Shadow of the Chief and we started Fringe Filmworks. The doc was a labour of love and we worked on it every minute after our day jobs were done. I had an understanding employer and I was in an environment where I could just ask questions of amazing mentors. Our film premiered at the Whistler Film Festival in 2003, won some awards and was picked up for broadcast by the CBC and others. This encouraged us to continue. We’re still working together now. Since then we’ve also co-produced a marriage and two children. After more than six years with the NFB I jumped back into academia. I became the director of public relations at the new Quest University Canada in Squamish, B.C., working with the former President of the University of British Columbia, David Strangway. With the birth of my son, and a recognition that I wanted to step back from the heavy the demands of a start-up university, I hung out my freelance sign again. I developed a feature, and a doc series through Fringe Filmworks, did publicity, and continued to write. Shauna Hardy Mishaw gave me the opportunity to put my skills together Beginnings continued on page 13
Reel West September / October 2011
Photo by Phil Chin; Hair by Omar Kanani (Toni & Guy); make up by adrienne Dawn; Dress by blushing designs
Behind the scenes
The Promotion People
Lesley Diana learned enough from her past lives to build a company from the ground up.
t was the pieces of things that helped Lesley Diana create the public relations package known as The Promotion People. Hosting a Saskatchewan-based talk TV talk show for 11 years helped her with on set interviews and preparing her clients to work with media. Owning a chain of women’s retail stores encouraged fashion designers and major brands to hire her to oversee their national publicity. She had enough confidence in her skills to start her own company in 1994 and several years later went on to do unit publicity for independent BC-shot movies, including Rampage Entertainment’s Christina’s House, Rodney Dangerfield’s My Five Wives, Keystone Entertainment’s Air Bud, Bruce Sweeney’s Last Wedding as well as Prophecy’s Ripper, The Barber and Bloodsuckers. She has done EPK interviews on set with many high profile actors including Jerry
“...I think that what thrills us most is when our clients get a big interview and the articles or TV show comes out. All our actors are so appreciative of what we do for them. It is very rewarding.” Stiller, Brooke Shields, Peter Coyote, Wendy Crewson, Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin, Malcolm McDowell, Kevin Zegers, Kevin Dillon and Tom Green. However, it was the personal touch that has made The Promotion People one of the country’s more high profile public relations companies. One of her first clients was Bo Svenson who told her that Canadians are too polite to get press and promote themselves. He told her that Hollywood is a star system and publicity is all part of the requirement to raise an actor’s profile enough to allow producers, directors and the audience to notice them. “The Promotion People is filling a void as very few local companies specialize in personal publicity” she says. “Personal publicity is different than unit publicity but most of the publicists who work in this market are part of that profession.” Beginnings continued from page 11
in a different way at the Whistler Film Festival. Armed with my knowledge of the film industry, its policies and people and a great understanding of special events and film festivals in particular, I became their industry program manager. I researched technological trends and the shifting tide for more than three years. That research is paying off for me now as technology and communication, marketing and content creation are more intricately entwined than ever before. In late 2010, family reasons brought me back to Winnipeg. While my husband was in Tibet shooting an episode for a German co-production I was producing, I moved the kids and our belongings back to the prairies. That show, The Explorers Club, a FlorianFilms/Fringe Filmworks co-production, aired on ZDF/ARTE in Germany and France in August 2011. I’ve spent the last year working on the broadcast side of things. A contract working in communications with the CBC has given me a look at the daily Reel West September / October 2011
In 2000, she completed her third film with Emmanuelle Vaugier, who then asked her to be her personal publicist. Within six years Vaugier was appearing in recurring roles in two of the top-rated shows on television, Two and a Half Men and CSI: NY. Vaugier, who still works with Diana, opened the doors to other Canadian actors looking to move on to bigger things. Cory Monteith was working with Diana when he was hired to star on Glee, while Diana also played a part in the careers of Corner Gas’s Gabrielle Miller and Fred Ewanuick, as well as many of Canada’s top 100 actors including Cle Bennett, Amanda Crew, Nicole Oliver, Ali Liebert, John Cassini, Wes‘Maestro’ Williams, Ben Ratner, Chelah Horsdal and April Telek. “Our clients keep coming back whenever they have new television shows and movies being released. Most of our new clients have been either recommended by our clients or their agents. I think that what thrills us most is when our clients get a big interview and the articles or TV show comes out. All our actors are so appreciative of what we do for them. It is very rewarding.” By 2006, The Promotion People had become too busy to stay a one woman operation. Diana hired publicist Jasmyn Pozzo, who heads up the press department and added Tybie Lipetz to manage social media three years later. This has enabled the company to also work with television shows being released. They scored a coup last year when the JetSet Crew was looking for a partner to run their Red Carpet at the Canvas Lounge during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. (They had already worked together on events for the Vancouver International Film Festival.) By the time the games had ended The Promotion People had become inextricably linked to the image of the parties of the Olympics with high profile local actors mingling with Canada’s gold medalists and international press every night. It was a great ride, admits Diana, one that has continued into 2011. “These last few years have arguably been our best,” she says. “We have garnered clients from Miami and New York and many actors based in the Canadian centres. We are always busy introducing clients to the media at the Toronto and Vancouver film festivals.” She says that one of the most memorable moments was watching Monteith become a star. “Cory had to stop by the side of the road to do interviews in his car on the way to his audition for Glee. Then when he got the call saying he had landed the role we were so excited for him. And it reaffirmed that having press can often make or break the booking of a lead role, especially in the U.S. We have always said ‘we are here to help.’” n realities of the newsroom. I have a better understanding of the people I used to pitch while at the NFB. I also have a greater understanding of our nation’s public broadcaster. Life in the film and TV industry is never dull. It is often volatile. The money comes and goes. The days are long. The friendships endure. The battles fade from memory. The personalities are big and change is fast paced. Now, in a shifting technological environment, communications doesn’t just mean writing a good press release, photocopying some bios and taking a good picture once you’ve seen the final cut. My toolkit includes social media, transmedia production and building audiences well before the product is complete. I tweet and use hashtags @angheck and it’s not illegal. Through it all I’ve tried to stay flexible, enthusiastic, work hard and do more than I’m asked. I work with people I like, laugh a lot and stay open to possibilities. Fringe Filmworks has officially moved to Winnipeg. We’ll see what the future holds. n 13
question and Answer
Director GAVIN O’CONNOR (center) gives direction to COLIN FARRELL (right) and FRANK GRILLO on the set of Pride and Glory distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Glen Wilson
n 1995, Gavin O’Connor made a movie about New York junkies that few people saw called Comfortably Numb. Four years later, he recovered with a small comedy called Tumbleweeds, about the relationship between a woman and her teenage daughter. He brought it to the Sundance film festival where it won him a best director prize and later won co-star Janet McTeer a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. He waited another five years to find a script that wasn’t about female relationships. The Vancouver-shot Miracle was a successful sports movie, one that gave Hollywood studios the sign that he could do almost anything. He wrote the cop movie Pride and Glory and has now moved back to a genre that feels familiar with a film about mixed martial arts. Warrior, which opens September 9, looks at the relationship between two brothers who come to the sport from different directions. Tommy was a high school wrestling star who was coached by his alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) until
his father’s abuse forced him to move away with his mother at the age of 14. Brendan went into teaching to support his young family after several years of being on the losing end of MMA but hopes to save his house by winning a tournament. Tommy is interested in the same tournament and enlists his father to train him despite the bitter memories. O’Connor decided to hire then-unknown actors rather than athletes. It seems to have paid off. Since they were hired Tom Hardy has starred in Bronson and Inception and will play the villainous Bane in The Dark Knight Rises and Australian actor Joel Edgerton was recently hired to co-star with Leonardo DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby. O’Connor was interviewed in Los Angeles in August by Reel West editor Ian Caddell. Was it hard to make the leap from Tumbleweeds to where you are now? Did Hollywood want you to continue with a movie genre that you seemed to do quite well? “After Tumbleweeds won at Sun-
dance I went to Hollywood and they said ‘okay, now you can make movies.’ They started offering me a lot of chick flicks because that is the way they think. They think ‘you did this so now you can do this similar thing.’ But I said ‘no, that was just a story that I wanted to tell.’ I wrote Pride and Glory but I couldn’t get that made so I made Miracle because my agent told me that I had to make a studio movie or people would continue to think of me as a director of tiny films. But I just try to write a story; it’s not an intellectual exercise, it’s an organic thing. This movie I felt was an exorcism because there was stuff inside of me and I was trying to understand true forgiveness which to me this movie is about. Maybe I don’t go to therapy enough but I try to deal with it by writing about it and realizing it and trying to actualize it so that I can come to some sort of understanding. I use my scripts, in some weird way, as a personal kind of thing to get stuff out of me. Hopefully people will like the movies.”
What was more difficult, shooting the hockey scenes in Miracle or making this film? “When I cast that movie it was a difficult situation because the studio wanted all these hot actors and then to get body doubles to do the hockey. I said it is a lot easier to get hockey players and teach them to act than to get actors and teach them how to play Olympic level hockey. How am I ever going to do that? I would rather bet on me getting non-actors to act. So the training part was easy because they were hockey players and they were ready to go right away. But this was more difficult because now I had actors who had to train to be fighters. I don’t see this as a sports film. To me it’s a kitchen sink drama. So I had to get people who would commit themselves to the brutal physicality and training and regimen and diet and weight lifting and to live and breathe like fighters outside of what I needed them to do as actors in the dramatic parts of the movie, which was 75percent of the film.” So you needed good actors to make the movie. Was it hard to find these guys? “The conversation at the studio was that they wanted movie stars. The movie was going to cost $28 million to make before they could get it greenlit and they (independent studios like Lionsgate) need overseas sales before they get too far along in the process. They wanted two movie stars and I wanted actors you didn’t know for the two brothers. When I cast them no one had heard of them. I cast Tom before (the film) Bronson was at Sundance which shows how long ago that was. The challenge was getting them to make the movie with two unknowns because as they made clear to me their whole business model of selling territories overseas was thrown away. So they were rolling the dice on the movie. A lot of the credit goes to Lionsgate’s courage because they broke the business model making this film.” You have made just five films now since 1995. Does it take a long time for you to get them made? “For some, yes, but this was lightning fast in terms of getting through the production of the film itself. That had never happened for me before. I pitched the movie to New Line and then the company imploded Reel West September / October 2011
after they bought it. So I took it to Lionsgate and they bought it in the room. I wrote the script and finished the script and we were ‘up’, which I had never experienced before. So it was an interesting process of having something come out. There wasn’t any gestation point with trying to get a movie through development and casting and starting and stopping. We just kept going and it was straight through until we finished shooting and then cutting and that was a year of editing and that was where it became a balance on the other side. Then it was weird because after we finished the movie we took a collective breath and it was a year before the movie came out from when I finished. We were supposed to release it last year but the studio didn’t want to come out against The Fighter, which I thought was the right decision.” How do you keep a movie that has all these traditional Rocky style clichés from playing too broad and too melodramatic? “You know, when I walked my co-
dio backdrop with) Ahab fighting the white whale and the old man calls him a godless son of a bitch and he is living in so much pain and anger and rage. For him, fighting is black and white and Tommy’s only way of dealing with life is through violence. That is the only way he has control and there is no passion. He tries to get his old man to drink with him and when he finally does get him to do that the mirror reflects back and he sees himself. That allows for the sympathy because you can’t have a character in a film like this that people don’t care for at some point.” At some point in development of the script there must have been a moment when you felt the audience would like to see the father and his sons get together? “When you’re writing, you have to decide if a resolution is earned. I felt it would be false to get them together. The old man was fortunate enough to have one son get home even if he was just there to get drunk with his dad. The other son wants to
“You can look at how much they weigh and the size of their fist but you can’t put down on paper how big the heart is...” writer Anthony Tambakis through the story he said a similar thing. He said ‘this could all flip on the wrong side.’ But I didn’t see that because it all seemed truthful to me. I call the movie ‘an intervention in a cage’ because you have two brothers who communicated with violence. So for them to repair the damage of their past they had to repair the last 14 years. So everything they were doing in the cage was a communication. The trick was getting the audience to see that they didn’t have any specific person or team to root for like you do in most movies. The thing that felt unique to me was having the audience invested in both men’s journeys so as they were running on parallel tracks they may have to end up fighting each other and if they do who are they rooting for?” Was it tough, as a writer, to create a sympathetic character out of an angry alcoholic like Tommy? “A lot of this movie is about Tommy raging against God. We have (an auReel West September / October 2011
harm him so to get them all together would be like gasoline and TNT. So what I was driving toward was the idea that for the family to ever heal and for a reunion to happen it had to start with the boys and that is why I keep that father as a witness to the war that is happening.” What do you expect the reaction from the MMA community to be? “For me it’s a love letter to the sport. I surrounded myself with experts who know a lot more than me about MMA. Everyone around me knows a lot more about it than I do and I had a great trainer as my technical director so we went to great lengths to make it look right. Everything that is in the movie I have seen in real life. Here is what I always say. You can look at how much they weigh and the size of their fist but you can’t put down on paper how big the heart is. What I have learned is that anyone can lose and anyone can win. There is a little dramatic license here, of course, but it happens all the time.” n
Viola Davis as Aibileen in The Help
“I tell actors to study their craft all the time because what I think is a problem in society and in our business as well is a sense of entitlement with no sense of responsibility. We have a business where the people you see on TV and film represent less than 1 per cent of the profession. The only thing you can control in this business is quality of the work and that is why I tell actors to study.” Viola Davis on why she credits her background at Juilliard and other schools for her continued success on stage and in film. “When we were filming the movie we were five or six months pregnant and we weren’t telling anyone. So it was easy to look at an ultrasound photo in the film and to see what emotion that brings. (Director) Raja Gosnell had been telling me what it felt like to be a potential dad and how your heart will skip beats and I was nodding ‘is that right?’ Eventually I leaned over to him and said ‘we are expecting twins in October.’” Neil Patrick Harris on keeping his expected twins, with partner David Burtka, low profile on the set of The Smurfs. “One of my favorite movies in the ‘romantic comedy’ genre is When Harry Met Sally and the same way that those people were commenting on their generation and how that generation dealt with love and success, that is what we wanted to do with this movie. We have a very honest banter between a man and a woman. What is cliché about love and sex and relationships for this generation? We said ‘let’s look around and see what is ridiculous.’ For instance the romantic comedy and the falsification of romantic comedies and the force it has had on the woman’s point of view. There is a point where I say ‘why do women think they have to manipulate me to get what they want?’ and she ways ‘that is their experience with romantic comedies.’ To be able to comment on something empowers your generation and it empowers the movie.” Friends with Benefits star Justin Timberlake on trying to create a romantic comedy for a new generation. “I was a tough teenager. I was mean to my mom. I didn’t break any rules. I never had any alcohol. I never had any boyfriends and I never snuck out. I was a good student, but I went after her. My mom is my best friend now but I feel really bad that there were two hormonal years where I was really rude. When I was on my way to the audition for it, I called my mom and she said she was reading The Help with her book group. She said ‘I love that book I am so glad they are making it into a movie. What part are you playing?’ I said Hilly and without missing a beat she said ‘you will be perfect.’” Dallas Bryce Howard on why her mother wasn’t surprised that she would play the villainous Hilly in The Help.
Excerpted from interviews done by Reel West editor Ian Caddell.
The Vancouver International Film Festival has been built one year at a time for 30 years.
n late September, the curtain will rise on the 30th edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival. It has come a long way. It began in 1982 with a single cinema, the Ridge Theatre on Arbutus and now winds its way through a downtown core that has changed as much as the festival over the last three decades. In fact, of the theatres that currently house the festival, only the ancient Vogue on Granville Street even existed in 1982. The others - the Granville 7, the Pacific Cinematheque and the VanCity Theatre – were built in later years. When it was founded, by Leonard Schein, the Festival was held in the spring just after the Seattle Film Festival, which was founded and programmed by VIFF programmer Darryl Macdonald. That changed in 1987 when it was moved to the fall to coincide with the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in October. Hannah Fisher was the director and the government requested that movies from the different countries of the Commonwealth be shown at the Festival.
Franey stepped into the position that he still holds the following year and the Festival stayed in the fall. The Festival’s board realized that it would be hard to move it back to the spring despite the challenges of following the growing Toronto film festival, which was held in September and was known for courting movie stars. Since it was unlikely that the stars would align twice in one season, Franey focused on the films. Of course, the city’s film industry was building during the early years of the festival and the now-defunct British Columbia Motion Picture Association saw the annual Festival as the perfect time and place to help grow an industry through workshops and panel discussions. Inevitably, many of the young filmmakers who attended the Trade Forum - now run by the Festival and called The Film + TV Forum - have gone on to bring their movies to the Festival. To celebrate 30 years of the Festival, they and other participants look back at their best memories and their favorite year. Reel West September / October 2011
Anne Marie Fleming Filmmaker Favourite Year: 1988 “It was Alan Franey’s first year as Festival director. I was writing reviews for Emily Carr’s student paper earlier in the year and I saw films like Bille August’s Pelle the Conqueror and Pedro Almodovar’s Matador and they totally blew my mind. My world just expanded and I was so excited that films like these were coming to Vancouver, to our festival. It was just a bunch of regular folks who were going out and getting them and bringing them to us. I had a short film in the festival that year, Waving, but I had been a volunteer the year before, so I just did it again, even though I had free tickets. I was such a keener. Vancouver was a really different city back then. There were fewer opportunities to see nonmainstream work. The Ridge was the epicenter of everything. I saw Yellow Sorghum at the Van East cinema and that was also amazing. The festival was like a big party. People didn’t seem to mind racing from one part of the city to another to see films. I guess they still don’t! I seem to remember there was more dancing back then. We need more dancing!”
Bruce Sweeney Filmmaker Favourite Year: 1990 “VIFF is an inspirational film festival for me and 1990 was my most compelling VIFF experience. My UBC short Betty and Vera Go Lawnbowling (the 16mm black and white anamorphic spilled out onto the walls at the Cinematheque) was selected and screened before Cynthia Scott’s A Company of Strangers. Because my short was selected, I qualified for Master’s classes. I attended the class held by Mike Leigh who was there with Life is Sweet. I had seen his films to date and loved them. He explained and outlined his way of making films; an improvisation-based style which produces rich characterization and nuanced performances, but doesn’t sacrifice story. I was blown away. What struck me was that here was a working filmmaker, talking about his films, his art, his influences, etc, all in a down to earth manner. I came away with a new agenda: make a feature, get it into festivals.” Reel West September / October 2011
“What struck me was that here was a working filmmaker, talking about his films, his art, his influences, etc, all in a down to earth manner. I came away with a new agenda: make a feature, get it into festivals...” - Bruce Sweeney (1990)
Lisa Doyle Volunteer Favourite Year: 1992 “There are so many memories of attending the festival, volunteering, being a guest, and seeing incredible films at a festival experience that I have not been able to find anywhere else. One of my funniest experiences at the film festival was the year I had a short experimental film showing before a local Canadian entry, North of Pittsburgh. Alan Franey did not see me before the screening so he did not introduce me before the film started. The entire cast and crew was there for the feature screening, and they had clearly been to the hospitality suite before heading to the theatre! After my short film showed, the very drunk woman sitting next to me said very loudly, ‘that was the worst film I’ve ever seen.’ Thankfully, Alan had not announced me, so no harm was done. The nice thing: I told someone at the festival office, who told Alan. Alan was quite concerned and called me to ‘make sure I was okay’. That is the special touch that makes the VIFF what it is. And it has not stopped me from making films.”
Terry David Mulligan Broadcast Journalist Favourite Year: 1993 “The festival was in the Hotel Vancouver and the very best part of covering the event was the TV interview area. I think we were on the Mezza-
nine floor and the only natural light was outside the press room on the roof of the front entrance to the hotel on Georgia Street. So the camera operator, the host and guests all had to climb out the windows like thieves in the night. Hair had to be straightened, clothes brushed off. Interview done. Star turn accomplished We all put our dignity in our pockets and clambered back into the hotel Again, like thieves. Loved it. A great memory.”
Robert Capstick Cinephile Favourite Year: 1995 “My favourite year was my sophomore year in which the strangeness of an international film festival and the odd people that attend it became less intimidating and more intriguing. Words and phrases like ‘subtext,’ ‘mise en scene,’ and ‘spiritual metaphor’ began to creep into my vocabulary, while skimming subtitles quickly evolved into a subliminal reflex. I gravitated towards a handful of cinephiles who later became good friends and, by sheer osmosis, I learned the intricate language of cinema which goes far beyond the spoken word. I learned to think critically, to separate the amazing from the merely entertaining, and to defend my opinions against equally passionate film fanatics. I even began writing my own movie critiques for the benefit of my co-workers (never EVER ask a film festival fan ‘Have you seen any good films lately?’) That hobby
eventually led to my own humble movie review website. Armed with a handful of tickets and a dog-eared guidebook I fell in love with the likes of Wong Kar Wai, Hirokazu Koreeda and Jane Campion to name a few. The wonder I felt at seeing universal stories filtered through foreign eyes has never left me.”
Christine Haebler Filmmaker Favourite Year: 1995 “It was my favourite year for many reasons. The films were good too. It was my first festival with the first film I produced. It was a short film called Two Impossible Films, directed by Mark Lewis. I also attended the Trade Forum and hung out with Helen DuToit, Lisa Pantages and Jeanie Lamb who were running the hospitality suite at the Hotel Vancouver. A lot of fun was had by all.”
Peter von Puttkamer Filmmaker Favourite Year: 1996 “I remember 1996 very well. It was the year Breaking the Waves was featured at the festival. Upon entering the theater, I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for director Lars Von Trier’s “Dogme 1995” philosophy of low-budget filmmaking using handheld DVCAM cameras and minimal lighting, which included the extensive use of “shaky cam” throughout the film. My wife and 17
“The festival’s dream of having its own cinema had come true with the state of the art Vancity Theatre. Although there were the usual logistical and technical challenges with any move, it felt like we had all grown up.” - Helen Yagi (2005) producing partner Sheera gets sea or air sick at the best of times and it took no longer than 30 minutes of nauseating tilts, pans, dips and loop-de-loops when she begged off and said she was going to the lobby. I stuck with it as long as I could and then thought ‘I’d better join her in the lobby.’ Over the next several minutes we observed a number of audience members staggering out the theater doors and projectile vomiting onto the lobby carpet! By now, we weren’t feeling too bad about our reaction to the film. It was a clear case of a misguided film technique over-riding the overall message of the film! Never mind the Grand Prix it won at Cannes! Later, headlines appeared in newspapers across America: ‘Waves makes people seasick.’”
Karen Powell Filmmaker Favourite Year: 1997 “We were celebrating the success that was Kitchen Party, and John Dippong, who had recently joined Telefilm, offered to take us for celebratory drinks to the Side Door on Broadway. Needless to say, we stayed longer than we thought, and since it was pouring rain, no cabs would be forthcoming any time soon. So, in true Vancouver spirit, we climbed into the back of John’s covered truck, 18
and sped to the Ridge on Arbutus. We made it in time, and the screening was a success!”
David Hauka Filmmaker Favourite Year: 2003 “’You’re interviewing Stan Lee, right?’ She was maybe 20, short magenta hair, schoolgirl kilt, Spiderman tattoos and a stack of Marvel Comics under her arm. ‘I’ve got to see him.’ Before I could respond, other fans interrupted. I escaped into the safety of the theatre. Stan Lee arrived, tall, lean, confident and warm. As we chatted and went over a few talking points, any anxiety I had vanished. I was with Mr. Marvel Comics! Stan hid behind a curtain as the over-capacity audience waited. He wanted to ‘make an entrance.’ I stood on stage and asked for quiet. Whoosh! It was quiet! I could feel anticipation and excitement. ‘This is different.’ I thought. ‘This is important.’ Stan entered and the crowd leapt to its feet. Stan could talk with great seriousness about arcane comic matters and shift seamlessly to serious topics. I’d planned the interview to cover comic history, then onto films, and it worked - until I blew it. I called the Fantastic Four’s Mr. Fantastic ‘The Elasticman.’ I lost the comic crowd. Feeling their disappointment that I wasn’t ‘one of them’ Stan smiled, corrected my error, and
set me up to regain the audience. ‘Why choose Amazing Tales Number 15 to introduce Spiderman?’ I asked, and then went on to discuss Marvel Comic history and American culture. I wanted the interview never to end, but end it did, and with it an experience I will always treasure. Stan’s final word to the audience sums it up: ‘Excelsior!’”
Helen Yagi Festival Publicist Favourite Year: 2005 “It was a very pivotal time because we had just moved into the new Film Centre on Seymour Street. It was a quantum leap in space compared to the old office on Homer. The festival’s dream of having its own cinema had come true with the state of the art Vancity Theatre. Although there were the usual logistical and technical challenges with any move, it felt like we had all grown up. The opening film that year was Water, and the director Deepha Mehta and lead actress, Lisa Ray, were in attendance. I remember the Red Carpet arrival with Mehta in a stunning sari and Ray in a chic grey dress. Both were very elegant but also unpretentious, so it made publicity that evening almost effortless. Although the Film Festival isn’t known to have many celebrity guests, we had Isabella Rossellini that year.
She collaborated with Guy Maddin on a short film called My Dad is 100 Years Old about her father, director Roberto Rossellini. Isabella wrote the screenplay, starred in the film and attended the screening. The press and audience were charmed and awestruck by her intelligence, eloquence and regal presence. The other celebrity we had was Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame. The festival was premiering the documentary A/K/A Tommy Chong, about his prosecution in the US for selling bongs. He was very gracious and dignified, not what I expected from half of a wild comedy team. He was very laid back and mellow through the many interview and photo op requests, which was expected.”
Carl Bessai Filmmaker Favourite Year: 2008 “It was the year we played Mothers&Daughters. We had made the film with the previous year’s prize money from the movie Normal and it was a festival of synchronicity and magic for me. Our little film, with my six improvising collaborators led by the intrepid Babz Chula, was a real festival sensation. The film starred Babz alongside Camille Sullivan, Gabrielle Rose, Tantoo Cardinal, Tinsel Korey and Tiffany Lyndall-Knight and we had no idea how popular it was going to be. I was standing up at all the sold out screenings with these incredible women, who have really built the industry in this city, presenting a film we made with hardly any cash, just a lot of love and enthusiasm. That was an amazing moment for me. We won the audience award that year and I was proud to be able to accept it with Gabrielle, Babz and Tantoo at my side. Our success with that film was a real testament to the power of our creative community and a reminder to me as an artist that financial barriers and other production barriers that we are always facing as filmmakers should never get in the way of our urgent desire to connect our stories to our audiences.”
Jay Brazeau Actor Favourite Year: 2010 “How often does a guy get to sit next to his wife and watch her watching Reel West September / October 2011
him have sex on screen with a beautiful woman? Probably more than one thinks. Alas…not at my house. It happened to me at last year’s premiere screening of Carl Bessai’s Fathers&Sons. Now I have never seen my ass. Nor did I have the desire to see it. At 57 years old it is truly not one of the wonders of the world. And there it was. Up there on the silver screen pounding Camille Sullivan. It was staring down at me like that monolith from 2001 although I believe that Keir Dullea had quite a beautiful bum. Needless to say I am sitting in this big theatre on Granville clutching my popcorn bag, watching my bobbing butt and people are…laughing? And as I look to my left my wife is one of the loudest. I turn to my right and two young boys are in hysterics: my sons! Now at this point you are probably asking yourself what kind of sick individual would bring his wife and two young sons to a nudie film where Dad is the lead nudie. That sick individual would be me. And why? Because they wanted to come. Because they enjoy both Carl’s and my stuff. And because Fathers&Sons is a great film. I was lucky enough to be one of the locals who worked on it and was able to share it with my town at my hometown festival. I’ve been proud of my film-work many times at the VIFF. But Fathers&Sons was that one gem in my collection that shone brighter than all the others.” n
Men at Work: Lee Aronsohn comes to the Film + TV Forum to talk about saving a ratings winner Story by
did a webisodes panel but one of the things I have learned from dabbling in film production is that I am very close to missing the
It seems hard to believe but it wasn’t too long ago that
bus that goes up the hill rather than the one going downhill. The
comedy was king of television. In some respects, it still is, just at
uphill bus is going to a place called television and I think it’s impor-
a different time. When television stations buy syndicated shows
tant for young filmmakers to find a place for television in their ca-
to fill their 7- 8 pre-primetime slot, they invariably choose shows
reers. If they do that it could be a nice place to spend their lives.”
that were network hits and thus find ratings success.
Aronsohn has done particularly well with TV. Working, for the
Seinfeld, Friends, Everyone Loves Raymond and even
most part, with Lorre, he has been involved in hits like The Love
Cheers and MASH are staples of local stations and live in their
Boat, Charles in Charge, Who’s the Boss, Murphy Brown, Grace
most valuable slots. That’s not true in prime time where this
Under Fire, and Cybill. The firing of Sheen came out of his off-
past season saw just two comedies - Two and a Half Men and
screen antics and a name-calling exhibition that included him label-
The Big Bang Theory - compete regularly for a place amongst
ing Lorre as a “turd” and a “clown.” When Sheen was fired, Lorre
the top 25 rated shows. Surprisingly, both shows have had the
and Aronsohn went looking for a replacement and found Kutcher.
same executive producers in place since their creation.
Allegedly they will kill Sheen’s character, “Charlie Harper”, off prior
That changed recently when Lee Aronsohn, a writer and executive producer of Big Bang, dropped his affiliation with the show to
to the first episode of the year and hand the ninth season off to Kutcher and the other “men,” Jon Pryor and Angus T. Jones.
focus on Men, the series he co-created with Chuck Lorre. Pop
Aronsohn says, over the phone from Los Angeles, that after 30
culture has been abuzz with the firing of Charlie Sheen from the
years of being in the business of being funny, he knows enough
lead role in Men and the fact that he will be replaced this fall with
not to panic if the star has to move on. “If you go back to MASH,
another comedy veteran, That’ 70s Show’s Ashton Kutcher. Aron-
there were three stars in the first three seasons: MacLean Steven-
sohn will be the guest speaker for a TV comedy writing workshop
son, Wayne Rogers and Alan Alda. Alda stayed after the others
of the upcoming Film + TV Forum’s New Filmmakers’ Day.
had moved on and became the only star, really, and the replace-
Helen du Toit, who is the creative director of the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Forum, says that she felt it was time
ments (Mike Farrell and Harry Morgan) fit well. When Cheers was big, Shelley Long was getting movies and decided to move on.
to talk to aspiring producers about the benefits of becoming
“Quite frankly in both those cases the show became a lot
involved in television. Even though September 30, the third day
more interesting and you had the opportunity to concentrate
of the five day Forum is officially titled TV Day, she felt that there
on new characters and make them as deep as possible. When
was a place for a discussion of television on New Filmmakers
you are writing a pilot you have to introduce everyone so it is
Day, which falls on Saturday, October 1.
easier this way. The key to success in situation comedy tra-
(In addition to the workshop on comedy writing, the Forum will
ditionally has been the right marriage of character and actor.
host a directing workshop featuring Catherine Hardwicke, a cine-
We have seen examples of talented actors who have failed at
matography workshop called The Establishing Shot and Success
sitcoms because the part they chose didn’t fit them well. We
Stories which will look at indie successes from the point of view of
got lucky with Jon Cryer who really fits his character. It wasn’t
Scott Cooper, who directed the Oscar-winner Crazy Heart.)
Reel West September / October 2011
“This (comedy workshop) is different because we focus almost exclusively on film (on New Filmmakers’ Day.) Last year we
Aronsohn continued on page 29 19
The Vancouver International Film Festival will be screening four western Canadian documentaries for its Canadian Program, from left to right: Julia Ivanova’s Family Portrait in Black and White Photo c/o hot docs; Dianne Whelan’s 40 Days at Base Camp; Frank Wolf’s On the Line Photo c/o Frank Wolf; Vic Sarin’s Desert Riders Photo by David Higgs
Adjusting for Balance
It’s been almost of a quarter century since Michael Moore’s Roger and Me proved that you could provide populist entertainment through the documentary form. But while Moore has admitted that he is more interested in outing culprits than in journalistic balance, most documentary filmmakers find the telling of stories to be complicated. Story by
Ian Caddell >> Western Canada has always been a fertile land for documentary filmmakers. This year, the Vancouver International Film Festival has chosen four western Canadian documentary features for its Canadian program. Surprisingly, only one is set in Canada. The others are set in three distinctly different parts of the world and tell stories that come out of cultures that are different enough from our own that the filmmakers and, inevitably the audience, may be somewhat reluctant to rush to judgment. The filmmakers have come from different places as well. Dianne Whelan moved from short films about northern Canada to 40 Days at Base Camp, a film about climbing Nepal’s Mount Everest. Vic Sarin, who is noted for shooting and directing dramatic features returned to his first love, documentaries, for Desert Riders which looks at how children are used as jockeys in the dangerous sport of camel racing throughout Pakistan, Bangladesh and neighbouring countries. In 2010, Julia Ivanova pitched Family Portrait in Black and White - a movie about a foster mother who adopts mixed race children in Eastern Europe, an area rife with racism - at the film festival’s Film + TV Forum before heading off to Ukraine to shoot it. And Frank Wolf chronicles, for the third time, the clash between humans and their fragile environment. Wolf ’s latest movie, On the Line, took him and friend Todd McGowan on a 2400 km journey to follow the course of a proposed 5.5 billion dollar oil 20
pipeline. The pipeline, to be built by Calgary’s Enbridge Corporation, would bring supertankers to BC’s North coast to deliver oil from Alberta’s Tar Sands to Asian markets. Wolf admits that while he knew going in that building a pipeline through BC could lead to problems, he was interested in showing every point of view. “I was contacted directly by (Embridge spokesperson) Alan Roth shortly before I set off on the shoot. He was concerned about the film and that the message it would deliver might hurt the chances of his corporation’s project going through. I in turn asked him to grant my request to interview representatives of Enbridge in Fort MacMurray so they could tell their side of the story. He refused. When you cut through the rhetoric you usually hear from large organizations on both sides of the issue but when you get down to the honest grass roots level, the truth is usually revealed. Whether one side or the other are perceived as ‘villains’ is for the audience to decide. The landscape at stake and the nature and human livelihood it supports also speaks for itself. That being said, my own perceptions certainly bleed into the film as well and how can they not in the course of such a physically and psychologically immersive journey?” Sarin has returned to documentaries after two decades as a director and cinematographer of feature films. He says he chose his latest film because he was “struck by how a whole sport and the sportsmanship of it could be completely side-stepped by everyone.” Sarin says he went into the film - which looks at the violence and slave labour aspects of camel racing - with an open mind. However, he admits that his point of view soon shifted and he eventuReel West September / October 2011
ally decided, like Wolf, to let the audience come to conclusions about who was responsible for the plight of the children. “I knew it was going to be a very difficult story to tell because of the controversial subject matter and the conservative cultures involved. There were many discouraging days as we were not allowed to film with ease or given permission to shoot in important locations. The most difficult part for me was that the further I got into the making of the film the more I realized that we are all at fault for what happened and finding the evidence of that was very challenging. I realized that there was no one party to point the finger at for the cause. Instead there were several entities that were to blame, but also humanity as a whole had failed these children. So, in order to do the story justice everyone had to have a platform. I wanted to let the audience decide and not present them with the notion of good guys and bad guys.” If you thought that the people who climb Mount Everest were disciplined and organized and experienced, Dianne Whelan’s film could go a long way in changing your mind. She says that she went to base camp at Everest with a similar approach and learned that when humans have their eye on the prize, they will do whatever it takes to get it. She started out with an ancient proverb, one that says that you have to spend 40 days with someone to get to know them and says she believes in it even more since finishing the film. “It’s true. Nobody is one dimensional. So the characters and their intentions play out and the viewer can think what they want. It is so easy to say ‘that guy cheated on his wife, he is an ass.’ But in reality, he might be an awesome father, great friend, and kind hearted. I am at an age where judgment is narrow-minded. I think what matters is that people are true to themselves. I didn’t make a film to judge anyone. I made a film that (aspired to) put a knife through a myth.” She says that part of the lure to Everest is that in a world where money can buy almost anything, $60 to$100,000 is a reasonable price for the adventure of a life time. And that those who make the journey don’t always have a lot of respect for that particular mountain or the indigenous people who live nearby. That in turn leads to Everest being representative of many of the ills that come with blind ambition. “For 40 days people from around the world flock like lemmings to a cliff, obsessed with a desire that they just have to pay for climbing the mountain rather than doing the 20 years of climbing to prepare. The costs of our ambitions surround us: leaking oil rigs, leaking nuclear power plants, the poiReel West September / October 2011
soning of our water, air and food supply. Base Camp is a microcosm of the macrocosm. I never set out to make climate change films yet the theme creeps in as it is physically altering the places I visit and bringing with it huge consequences for the indigenous people in the Arctic and the Inuit and now the High Himalayas and the Sherpas.” For Ivanova, the key to making a movie that offered balance was to avoid stereotypes. She says it would be an easy enough hole to fall into given that her subject could have been simplified and thus end up on either end of the spectrum. A woman who fights racism through adoption of racially mixed children, Olga uses the means she knows to get her brood through the day. “My goal was to tell the story of Olga, the loving and authoritarian foster mother, without getting into ‘Mother Teresa’ or “Wicked Witch’ stereotypes. Olga is a very complex person and her actions show it with excesses. My job as a director was not to simplify Olga in the editing, but to be conscious of the balance. When the filmmaker is filming, it’s impossible to argue with your subjects, to point out their mistakes and prove your position, because one mustn’t influence the life and people you are filming. Editing in many ways is this ongoing conversation with the subjects of the films, the one I could not have while filming. You want her to see herself and hopefully realize she has been wrong in imposing her vision on children in an authoritarian way. At the end of the day I believe that in the film Olga comes across exactly the way she is. What is interesting is that in different countries she is seen differently because her parenting style is more accepted in some cultures than others.” That style will offend some but Ivanova says it will not override the fact that in a racist culture, Olga is saving children. “Olga has many shortcomings but she has zero racism in her. It is a rare quality in Eastern Europe. In many ways she is a lonely fighter. She is unable to be diplomatic with the authorities; she is a single mother, and she is doing something none of her neighbors can understand, like sacrificing her life for twenty-plus something orphans. It seems that she actually enjoys all of the above, especially the confrontation with the authorities. I believe fostering children and fighting against the racism towards them gives Olga higher purpose in life and a huge satisfaction because she does make a difference. Olga is a person who always swims against the currents and fostering seventeen black teenagers in a small town in Ukraine surely is a statement. She is strong and wise enough to disregard what the majority of the society feels. For the minority, Olga is not an underdog but a hero.” n 21
You would have to go back more than 20 years to find a genesis for the film Becoming Redwood. It was a friendship that came out of a TV series called Madison, one of the first longrunning CBC series to be shot in BC after the demise of Beachcombers. Like Beachcombers, Madison, a show about high schoolers that was on the air from 1993 to 1997, gave opportunities to dozens of cast and crew, many of whom went on to help grow the BC film industry. Story by
Ian Caddell >> Joely Collins and Chad Willett were among a cast that looks like a “who’s who” of homegrown stars that included Adam Beach, Will Sasso, Barry Pepper, Emanuelle Vaugier and Sarah Strange. Collins and Willett have also done well 22
and recently felt that it might be time to use their talents to help create more work for an acting pool that keeps expanding. They had been looking for a movie to produce for several years and assumed that they had one that would fit the plans and the scope of the production company they formed. Then, something else came along and they found it would serve as a better starting point. That’s what has brought them to a small house in the middle of rural acreage in Langley. It feels safe, particularly for a first film, a task that could, one would Reel West September / October 2011
think, bring out the worst in even the closest of friends. Becoming Redwood tells the 1960s-set story of a boy (Ryan Grantham) who is bounced between borders, by his parents, as they try to find personal peace. His mother (Jennifer Copping) ran away from her husband (Derek Hamilton) and two children for a life on the road with the man who became his father (Willett.) He was a draft dodger who wanted to take his small family to Canada. However, when they got to the border she thought better of leaving America and ran home to her first family. When Redwood is 12, his father goes to jail and he is sent to the US to live with his mother and inherits a stepfather who sees him as a bad memory. The movie was written and is directed by Jesse James Miller, who has known Willett almost as long as Willett has known Collins. And while Willett plays the jailed father, MillReel West September / October 2011
er’s wife Jennifer Copping plays the mother. Collins says that while she had made a film called Summer Love several years ago she found working with a partner she trusted to be a better way of developing a production. “We both had been acting for over 20 years and we had our own ideas and stories but we decided to join forces. It is a much more pleasurable way to work than doing it on your own because it is a monumental task to put ideas together. We had so many of our own ideas to tell so we started a company, Storylab Productions. As actors we had read so many appalling scripts; things that just didn’t inspire us or connect to the human heart. We wanted to find good stories because it all starts with the script and we felt that we had a chance at a real collaboration by bringing in the people we love. I also wanted to contribute to the Vancou-
ver industry because it has been so good to me. So it seemed like starting a company was the best choice in order to move forward.” The first project they had looked at would have been a difficult first film. Since any production can be discouraging, they put the more complicated production aside when they read Becoming Redwood. “We got this production going, from script to first day of principal photography, in less than a year,” says Collins. Willett had moved to Los Angeles in 1996 but was beginning to tire of going from LA to New York to find work. Eventually he headed home, concerned that he might have already lost time that could have been spent pursuing the things he felt were most important to him. He brought with him the bigger production and took it to Collins to see if she wanted to work with him on it.
“I thought ‘do I want to go down this road and be that actor living in LA, not married, probably still chasing a career or do I want to go home and have a higher standard of living?’ In the end we all die and what are you going to look back on? I thought ‘I want to look back on the achievement of my dreams which are still to have a family and work on that angle and be happy and not just be a career man.’ So I moved back. I had this project that I had been working on in New York but the people I had been working with had disappointed me. I brought it back here and said ‘Joely I want to make this movie.’ She said ‘I love it, let’s do it.’ We started developing that project and then Jesse’s script came around and I took a look at it. I knew a little about it because I have known Jesse and Jennifer for 15 years and I said ‘Joely, you should read this because this would be a 23
(Previous page, left) Viv Leacock as Caddy Reuben Malone with Clive Holloway as The Scoreboard Boy; (Previous page, right) Ryan Grantham as Redwood and Joely Collins as the social worker. (This page, top) Behind the scenes of Becoming Redwood; (This page, below) Chad Willett & Joely Collins produced Becoming Redwood through their company StoryLab Productions. The set was a fun and relaxed environment which was verified by Dexter, who enjoyed the farm location in Langley. Photos by Andrés Salas
good project for us to start out with.’ And so we pursued that direction.’” While Becoming Redwood may have been an easier debut production for Storylab, it has had its difficult moments. Willett says it has been “a rollercoaster ride,” with most of the problems coming from the financial side. “Financial structuring was an area we felt we were missing,” he says. “You try to take film investments to someone who invests in other things and they say ‘what is this?’ It doesn’t make sense and it scares the hell out of them. I always say ‘it’s like building a house so look at it that way.’ So it can be very difficult. The financial structuring is an area I was not trained in and I had to learn. I made a lot of mistakes along the way.” Eventually, they came to the conclusion that they could make the movie without having to take traditional routes. Their choice to make the smaller movie paid off as they sidestepped funding organizations and broadcasters and relied solely on the support of people who were familiar with the project. “We are surrounded by people who love us and who have money and want to help,” he says, “and we said ‘we will start there and see if we have any luck and if we don’t have luck we will find other places to get the money.’ We tried to learn how to make a business plan which is a drag. My dad was a banker so we knew it was a part of the process. I thought you needed to have a plan so I would pass it over to him and then we searched and searched and discovered that you needed this thing to get that. So we had to have a lot of things in order to please our investors. We needed to have the actors on board early in order to crack the money. But we couldn’t get the actors until we had several other things so it seemed like a Catch 22. “Once the first few people started stepping into the circle it gave us faith and then other investors stepped up. It is amazing how one person putting money in encour24
Reel West September / October 2011
ages others. But what I found, and this is not a good strategy, is that if you set a date and say ‘we will make the movie on this date and let s go for it’ you discover you can’t make it for that much. However, since you have already started the ball rolling you have to raise a bit more money in order to have high quality because we had said we never wanted to sacrifice quality. At the same time, we needed to meet the bottom line. We needed to raise an amount of money that kept a high enough quality for us to make sales.” They had a script, a director, a cast and money. And they came into their debut production with the understanding that they were unlikely to have a lot of skirmishes with the people who were filling key roles. Their actors also had the luxury of dealing with producers who would probably be empathetic. Copping says that she knew going into the project that things would be different and says, on set, that she was right. “Working with Chad and Joely is kind of a dream because not only have I known them as actors but I have known that they have wanted to produce for a long time. So to be part of their first thing and for all of us to bring our mutual talents to the table and to be able to sit and talk about takes is very nice. Producers don’t usually speak the language of an actor so having actors produce streamlines things. We are only on day six and I can see how helpful it is and that I can just look over at them and say ‘did I get that?’ or ‘what did I miss?’ and they are bouncing that off the director and he is bouncing that to me. It is a really nice collaboration.” That collaboration has also helped Miller get through a film that depends a lot on the skills of the 12 year old Grantham. Adult actors have been complaining about working with kids for decades because they know that the take that will be seen by audiences will always be the child actor’s best take, with their own efforts given short shrift. Miller says that having actors in the producers’ seats and knowing that they were also contributing roles to the film made him feel comfortable relying on a child. “We have a lead that is 12 years old so it was imperative that I had people who were experienced. I didn’t have time to pick people up off the street. Ryan came along and I knew that he Reel West September / October 2011
could play the part. It is extremely hard but the ramifications of having a lead as a kid for 130 of the 138 scenes are huge. He is everything to this movie and we will live and die with him so everyone has to be in the same voice as him. So it was good in the end having producers who understand that from an actor’s vantage point.” If there is discouragement about working with friends it usually centres on the potential for losing a friendship if the work relationship becomes too intense. Miller says that he entered into the professional relationship with Willett and Collins having had bad experiences working with friends but was convinced that things would turn out well this time. “I have had friendships in the business and unfortunately those were learning experiences and I feel comfortable with it now. Early in my career I had very painful experiences but because I have been through it, I know how to deal with it better.” Collins and Willett took on the role of producers for a lot of reasons but in the end both admit that it came down to the need to work with the best people available. The best way to do that would be to be involved in the hiring of cast and crew. “I just want to work with good people in every role and every position because there are people who aren’t good to work with,” admits Collins. “There is a great vibe here on the set. Everyone is doing their job and there are no egos on the set and there is a lot of passion for the story. Everyone here feels proud that they are making this film. There is a lot of buzz and excitement and people are watching the screen. Thanks to our great DP, David Crone, the show looks beautiful and that is a great thing. People are coming to the table with everything they have got. I feel spoiled.” Like many actors who have gone on to become filmmakers, Willett started paying attention to the things that were going on around him on set at an early age. He says he had always cared about the whole project and not just his role in a production. That served him well when he turned his attention to producing Beyond Redwood. “Acting was never my end game goal,” he says. “I have always wanted to direct and I still do but with producing you learn the process and the guts of filmmaking. And if I make
Now4 S-LO Ava G opt ila ion ble !
Trading Places continued on page 29 25
(Above) Ben Cotton as Shamus with his alter ego Jerry; (Opposite) Director Aaron Houston on set of Sunflower Hour Photos by Candice Albach
Aaron Houston went to the Czech Republic with a low budget film about a fictitious children’s show and came back with acclaim and awards. The Vancouver director of Sunflower Hour recalls that he watched with amazement as his tiny film won good reviews from Variety and Screen Internatioanl at the prestigious Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. In his diary on the making of the film, he looks back at his very personal reasons for making the movie, the days when he realized the project could fail and the day he received the good reviews and Karlovy Vary’s Independent Camera Award. The film will make its local debut at the upcoming Vancouver International Film Festival, which runs from September 28 to October 14. Diary by
Aaron Houston May, 2006 I was watching a popular children’s show with my daughter today and noticed something interesting. When the puppeteer’s name for the main character came up in the credits at the beginning of the show, it was bigger and bolder than the rest. This struck me as really 26
funny for a couple of reasons. First, no one knows who the hell this guy is and second, the idea that even in children’s television there is this need to stroke the human ego, surprises me. I’ve always thought of children’s television as very pure and moralistic and just assumed, or hoped I guess, that the people behind the scenes were pure and moralistic as well. I’m kind of embarrassed to realize that of course ego would play a role in
children’s television, just as it does in the rest of the entertainment industry and any other workplace for that matter. I’m kind of laughing to myself as I write this because I think I just lost the last shred of innocence I had left in this world. Mr. Dressup, say it ain’t so! I like the idea of creating characters that tend to gravitate towards the entertainment industry with personality traits such as insecurity, a need for recognition, fame,
power, etc., and putting them in a scenario where they are supposed to mold the young minds of tomorrow. I find that really funny. November I’ve started shaping the characters for the children’s show idea in my head and find myself daydreaming about them a lot. I’m really starting to fall in love with them and have been thinking about focusing more on the characters and less on the actual children’s show. Because Reel West September / October 2011
of this, I’m contemplating writing it as a mockumentary so that it can be more of a comedic character study. I’ve always been a big fan of mockumentaries but have never written one so I’m a little intimidated but excited about the challenge of it. April 2007 I quit my job today. I’m starting my own production company with a partner and we’re going to do things our way and set our own schedules so that I can have more time with my daughter. I need to have a good relationship with her and also have the ability to focus on my own projects, which is why I got into this industry in the first place. I don’t think it’s the smartest move financially, but it feels pretty good emotionally. The trick now is getting that emotional well being to start putting food on the table… June I now have a first draft and a title for my show: Sunflower Hour. I think my writing process is a little different than others, as I tend to think about the whole script before writing anything and then just pour it all out onto paper. I wrote the first draft in about five days. The structure of the film revolves around a popular kids’ show that holds a contest to find the next great puppeteer, in a reality TV kind of way. It’s kind of like the American Idol of the puppet world with three judges choosing four finalists, who are all broken people in their own way. They are reaching for their dreams of being professional puppeteers on children’s television. The documentary team discovers that they all seem to be doing it for the wrong reasons and probably shouldn’t even be near children at all. Usually I hate what I write when I’m finished, but I actually feel good about this script. It feels like it could be something that we could really make, even if it were low budget, and that if everything came together in the right way, I might not be completely embarrassed about it. Oh self-confidence, how I loathe thee… December I became a fulltime single dad today. New responsibilities and priorities have taken over and I really think my film career is dead, or at least permanently on hold. I love being a dad and raising my daughter is my main priority. I also have to work to make money so the filmmaking is what’s going to have to go. I’ve been thinking about going back to school for carpentry because I always liked Reel West September / October 2011
that as well but I’m not sure if I can do that either. It’s pretty scary right now. I’m just going to focus on my daughter and take life as it comes. April I’ve had some time now to reflect on things and have come up with a new plan. I started thinking about how my parents always supported and encouraged me to follow the things I was passionate about in life and how I really want that for my daughter as well. I started to feel like I would be disappointing everyone, including my daughter and myself, if I gave up now just because my circumstances weren’t ideal or what I thought they should be in order for me to succeed. I think it would be hypocritical of me to tell my daughter to pursue her dreams no matter what, when I didn’t do it myself. I’ve had a lot of conversations with my family and they are very supportive of me. The plan is to get as much business as possible with our new production company, Unpaved Productions, and save the money from that to take some time off and make a feature. I feel like it’s something I should do as it will benefit my daugh-
get meetings with some of the major Canadian networks and are excited about it. I could really use some development money right now. September We heard from the last of the networks today and it’s a pass for all of them. I guess that’s the way it goes sometimes. We had good meetings but when we followed up with emails, the responses were all the same, “Sorry, we’re just not looking for a show about ‘The Biz’ right now.” One of them even said that shows about ‘The Biz’ are a hard sell and don’t do very well. Really? I wonder what the people at Entourage or 30 Rock would have to say about that? But I’m not bitter or anything… October 2009 Things have turned around in the last year. I wrote and directed a few viral commercials for Nokia and did some segments for the Canadian Tourism Commission as well as received development funding from Telefilm for another script I’m writing. I think I have enough money to take some time off and make a feature. I’ve approached Aisla about Sunflower Hour and we’ve decided to do it. We talked about getting investors for the project but ultimately decided
approaching them to see what their availability is like for the shoot. February 2010 Things are really starting to come together. All of our key crew is available and really passionate about the project. We’ve decided, because of budgetary constraints, to shoot over weekends so that everyone is available and it gives us the days during the week to prep for the locations. Our core group is Steve Deneault, a very talented cinematographer, Daren Sasges, a great production designer, Peter Kepkay, the most thorough location sound mixer I’ve ever worked with, Greg Ng, an editor whom I’ve never worked with but really admire and a few new people: Erica Landrock, associate producer, Alyssa Satow, hair and makeup and Oriana Camporese, wardrobe . There doesn’t seem to be any egos so I think this is going to be a really fun project. In the spirit of bringing good people on board, I call Maureen Webb, one of the big casting directors in town (who I knew back when I was failing to be an actor), to see if she’d be interested. Not only is she a cool, down
“I’m a big believer in going out and finding people who are right for the role rather than just going with actors who are more experienced...” ter more in the long run. I hope. June My business partner Aisla and I are off to Banff where we are going to pitch Sunflower Hour as a TV series. I restructured the script for the pilot because the contest aspect of it wasn’t going to work. I came up with a new idea where a former producer from the porn industry and his wife are looking to do something different and decide to start a children’s television show. We’ve managed to
to fund it ourselves. I really want to create an environment where everyone is respected and treated equally and we can all share in the creativity of making this film. That can be hard to do when you have investors involved. We’re hoping to shoot next spring and I’ve begun the rewrites of the feature script to incorporate the new characters from the pilot script. We’ve started working with a really great group of people and are
to earth person but she’s also really good at what she does. I’m excited to be working with her and am really grateful that someone so established is helping out on our little project. It’s been happening quite a bit lately with people like Maureen, Ed Brando at William F. White and Ron Hrynuik at The Bridge Studios. We have a really good, supportive film community here and it’s cool to be a part of it. 27
(Left to Right) Kacey Rohl, Ben Cotton, Patrick Gilmore and Amitai Marmorstein play a gang of misfit puppeteers looking to make it big in Sunflower Hour; Mr. Humphries peeks over Leslie Handover’s (Patrick Gilmore’s) shoulder Photos by Candice Albach
March We just finished up our casting sessions with Maureen and they went great. I’m really happy with everyone we cast and can’t wait to start shooting. I’m a little nervous because I don’t know or haven’t worked with most of the cast before, especially in the cases of Amitai Marmorstein and Kacey Rohl as they’re both just starting out. We cast them in lead roles, but I just feel like they’re really talented, have bright futures and really embodied the characters. I think it’s worth the risk. I’m a big believer in going out and finding people who are right for the role rather than just going with actors who are more experienced and I really feel like we did that. Patrick Gilmore, Ben Cotton, Peter New and Johannah Newmarch will be our other leads and they were all brilliant as well. It’s the same for the rest of the cast. I can’t wait for us to start bringing this to life. April 9 Everyone has worked hard for the last month getting things ready for the shoot. I’ve spent quite a bit of time individually with the actors to talk about their characters and feel confident that they’re ready. Jeny Cassady, who plays the director of the show in the film, is a professional puppeteer and has done a great job training the actors on how to bring their puppets to life. I’ve done a polish on the script since the table read and Steve and I have worked out the style of camera work we want to use. Daren and his team have created everything for our locations and we had a puppet 28
party where the cast and crew came out to make puppets for the film. We are ready. I can’t wait. April 10 Today is the first day of the shoot. I want to throw up. What the hell am I doing?!?! I have no business doing this. I’m a single parent! I should be out there looking for a real job, not playing around with making movies. Why am I being so irresponsible? Why did my friends and family let me do this? Is this really going to be any good or have I just been delusional because I want it so much? Why couldn’t anybody just be truthful and tell me that I’m a talentless hack! I’m going to look like an idiot after this!! I should have never quit my day job!!!! April 10 (20 minutes later) Okay, the panic attack is over. This is what I’ve always wanted to do so I’ve decided to try and let all of that go and have some fun with everybody as we make this movie together. I really wish someone would just take Self-Confidence out back and beat it to death. April 12 The first weekend was all Amitai’s stuff and it was unbelievable! Not only did Amitai completely nail it, so worth the risk, but so did everybody else, cast and crew alike. Everything went really smoothly. We laughed our asses off the whole time and got some really great footage. I feel a lot better and can’t wait for next weekend. June 6 Today was our final shoot day and I’m really sad to see it end. The whole experience was amazing and we had so much fun. We really became a
family and I wish we could just do this every weekend for the rest of our lives. Patrick, Ben, Johannah, Peter and the rest of the cast did unbelievable work and I’m really proud of Amitai and Kacey who were so worth the risk. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for them. The crew was amazing as well and worked so hard and passionately on the project that I feel really honored to have made this film with them. Just the experience itself of making this film with everybody was worth it on its own. August 15 We just watched the rough cut of the film. I feel like I’m going to throw up again. It’s too long, the pace is off and some of the story points are unnecessary. What the hell happened? August 15 (20 minutes later) Stupid panic attacks. I remember someone saying to me one time, “It’s never as good as the dailies but never as bad as the first cut.” I calm down. We watch the cut again and I realize that the performances are really solid and that it’s going to be okay. Greg and I talk and agree to cut a lot of the improv stuff that we did on set and go back to the script in order to make the storyline stronger and quicken the pace. I think as a filmmaker you have to be ready and willing to kill what’s most precious to you if it serves to make the project better. Let’s suit up for the slaughterhouse. April, 2011 Greg and I have been spending a lot of time editing, finding the right music and even abusing
Greg’s talents as a musician to create music for the film. We’ve taken out about forty-five minutes from the first cut, worked tirelessly on the timing of the comedy and I’m really happy with what we’ve done. I’m also really impressed by Greg’s work and his passion for the film. He and I have become really good friends in the process and it’s another part of the film where just the experience of doing it has been worth it. Telefilm has also come on board with completion funds so now we can do a proper color correction, sound design and pay for music. May Wow, we just found out that we’ve been selected to compete in the Forum of Independents Competition at the Czech Republic’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. It’s one of the biggest festivals in the world. Sunflower Hour? Really? I can’t believe it… July 5 We spent the last month and a half making a mad dash to the finish line where we had more great people help us out from Technicolor and Sharpe Studios, as well as getting the website, EPK, trailer, poster, marketing materials, etc. done. The last four days have been spent at this amazing festival meeting all kinds of cool people. We are sitting in our seats waiting for the first screening of Sunflower Hour to start. I feel like I’m going to throw up again. After working on a project for so long, you tend to lose your objectivity and really don’t know if people are going to like it or if it’s even funny at all. I’m now sitting Reel West September / October 2011
here thinking about this as well as how comedy doesn’t travel that well internationally and that it’s also going to be subtitled. I think I just got my first ulcer. I want to go home. July 5 (85 minutes later) My whole goal as a filmmaker is to share an experience with the audience and have them enjoy it so it was a huge relief to all of us when they started laughing, and it was in the right places. They really enjoyed the film and even clapped all the way through the credits. I know our film isn’t perfect and maybe it was just the mood of the enthusiastic festival crowd, but it was so cool to see people enjoy this little film that we made over weekends for fun with no money. I really wish that the whole cast and crew could have been here to see it. July 12 We are now flying home from Karlovy Vary and so much has happened and changed for Sunflower Hour that it’s kind of overwhelming. Not only did our screenings go really well but we also received great reviews from Variety and Screen International as well as a bunch of other great press and tweets from critics. We ended up winning the Forum of Independents, taking home the Independent Camera Award. We were shocked to have even been in the festival, never mind winning an award! I’m laughing to myself because I still can’t believe all of this came from our tiny, no budget film that we shot over weekends. Variety? Screen International? An award? It’s totally unbelievable. We’ve also
had interest from some people in LA who not only want to help us sell the film but want to get some more projects going as well. What? Never in my wildest dreams did I think anything like this would happen with Sunflower Hour. I lived out one of my greatest dreams and did it with a fantastic group of people and made it in a way where it was brought to life through passion and created as a team. I also included my daughter every step of the way during this journey. She’s even in the film and I hope she one day looks back on this and that it gives her motivation to follow whatever it is she’s passionate about in life because I know now what it was my parents wanted for me. I get to live the rest of my life with no regrets when it comes to my creative passion, and that’s a pretty cool feeling to have. Epilogue I would try to encourage all independent filmmakers out there to approach things the way we did. Not only will it be more fun to make the film but it just feels good to share with others and let the creativity flow. You don’t make a film by yourself, you need a team, so treat them like a team and always remember that you are just a small part of that team, nothing more. My other piece of advice to any filmmaker out there is if you really love what you do, don’t let any excuses get in the way of your dream and don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t, because you can. We did. n
Aronsohn continued from page 21
and then write for a week. By March we are
that he got more talented, he found the
running out of scripts.”
Comedy shows are usually shot in front
Aronsohn says comedy’s fall from grace
of a live audience now with few series
shouldn’t be considered an end game be-
falling back on a laugh track. Aronsohn
cause show business is cyclical. “Since I
says that while it’s not for everyone it has
started on The Love Boat and went through
worked well for his shows.
the sitcoms I have done, I have seen a lot of
“When you have a live audience, the
failures but the comedy genre isn’t one of
rubber hits the road,” he says. ”The audi-
them. I am just glad that I didn’t come into
ence is a blessing and a curse. You think
the business as a writer of westerns.”
you know what the reaction will be be-
While Aronsohn will talk to New Film-
cause you have played it over and over in
maker’s Day about Two and a Half Men, he
the room. It doesn’t happen that often that
says that he wants to focus on the process
you are completely wrong but the first epi-
of the writers’ room. “These shows are all
sode we shot for this year, everything was
gang-written,” he says. “That is unusual. It’s
going great. Then we shot the last line of
a committee of eight or nine people and it’s
the last scene, which we thought was go-
meritocracy at its finest but it is also idiosyn-
ing to get a big laugh and there was silence.
cratic and personal because they are acting
Chuck and I were looking at each other like
as the ancillary brain for whoever is holding
Scooby Doo. All the oxygen goes out of
the pencil, and that is Chuck and me. We
the room. When that happens we regroup
start writing in June and all of the shows are
with the writers and pitch something and
not done yet. We have six or seven scripts
then go back in front of the audience and
by August and we can produce three shows
shoot it. In this case things went well.”
Trading Places continued from page 25
for filmmakers? Willett says his view of producers has definitely changed for the better. “Yes, there is more of a respect for filmmakers now. I think of the number of times that I went gone home with my hair pulled out thinking ‘how can you do this?’ I look back at all the years I have worked as an actor and think ‘wow.’ I almost want to go ‘I am sorry I did that to you all those years ago but I couldn’t help it. I was protecting my part and I was an actor and I was doing my job. I had no idea of all the stuff that you were dealing with.’ But no one is perfect.” n
a few films as a producer then I can watch these fantastic directors and learn from them as well. Back when I was acting a lot I was observing. You have to balance your job of being an actor and not taking too much time doing other things but anyone who has worked with me has understood that I am more involved in the process than just being an actor. Of course, sometimes that got in the way of relationships but it was because I have always cared about the whole project.” But has he gained a new respect
VIFF’s Terry McEvoy Terry McEvoy was Ottawa’s film commissioner before moving to Vancouver in the early 1990s to make films. Eventually he became the man who decides what films will be part of the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Canadian section. He also holds the title of Vice-Chair, Western Canada for the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television. Home Town I grew up in Ottawa and I’ve lived in Peterborough, Montreal and Saskatoon. I’m sneaking up on twenty years in Vancouver. Start Date My first film was “Amateur Night: a true story”, documenting pre-karaoke performers with a perplexed live band. Best Day Working on a kayak documentary, paddling among icebergs in LeConte Bay, Alaska, then eating spring salmon butterflied over a fire. Worst Day The next morning, when we discovered that the high tide was higher than anticipated and everything got soaked. Most Memorable Working Experience That’s a tough one. The events I remember best are always associated with people. There are moments I’ve shared where everything came together (or fell apart) stupendously. The key word is shared. If I Won an Oscar I Would Thank Since it’s a hypothetical question, I imagine I would ride in on a unicorn and express gratitude to all the yetis, dragons and mermaids who made this dream come true. My Latest Five Year Plan I’d like to be playing music with friends and eating tomatoes from my garden.
Reel West September / October 2011
Final Edit Saskatchewan won the former for Paul Dederick, Chris Lane, Costa Maragos, Jonathan Shanks and Anna-May Zeviar. Va n c o u v e r based anchor Dawna Friesen won the Best News Anchor award for Global National while Va n c o u v e r ’s Mark Lee won the Best Sports Play-by-Play Announcer for The 2010 Track and Field Championships. Manitoba producers John Paskievich and John Whiteway won the Canada Award for their documentary The Storytelling Class, which looks at the bonding of immigrant children at a Winnipeg school. The award was one of several Joe and Mikey McBryan of Ice Pilots NWT standing in front of the Curtiss C-46. Ice Pilots won the Gemini for Best Original Music for a Lifestyle/ special Geminis Practical Information or Reality Program or Series as well as Best Photography in an Information Program or Series Photo by John Drifmier presented on the night with another going to Paul Bronfman, whose Comweb Corp. helped If it hadn’t been for a Broadcast Gala of the most awarded show, Call Me found the North Shore Studios. The Vancouver production The surprise by actors Callum Keith Ren- Fitz, the show is shot in Nova Scotia. nie and Michelle Thrush it would Other multiple award winning series Pig Farm, CTV’s documentary about have been a quiet Geminis for west- included the Toronto produced De- serial killer Robert Picton, won the ern Canadians this year. On that third grassi, The Kennedys, Flashpoint, The Barbara Sears Award for Best Editorial Research for Jane Burgess, Andrew night of award presentations, Rennie Borgias and Pillars of the Earth. Those shows won most of their Easterbrook and Jonathan Woodwon the Best Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role for Force awards on the second night of the ward. Also winning from Vancouver Four’s BC series Shattered, in which he three day extravaganza. The first night was Omni Film Productions’ Ice Pilots plays a cop with multiple personalities. was News and Sports, Documentary, NWT which won Graeme Coleman Thrush won the best actress award for Lifestyle and Reality and western a Gemini for Best Original Music for a the same category for Prairie Dog Film Canada fared well. The west took Lifestyle/Practical Information or Realand Television and APTN’s Blackstone, home both the Best Local Newscast, ity Program or Series and a Best PhoSmall Market Gemini and the Large tography in an Information Program or in which she plays an alcoholic. For the most part, however, quan- Market award. The latter Gemini was Series for Sean Cable and Todd Cradtity and perceived quality were owned won by News Hour from Vancou- dock. CBC’s The Test Tube with David by shows produced in other parts of ver. The producers are Ian Haysom, Suzuki won the Best Original Program the country. While we supplied Ja- Clive Jackson, Randy McHale, Tim or Series produced for Digital Media – son Priestley, the star and producer Perry and Doug Sydora. CBC News Non-Fiction Gemini for producers Rob
West Quiet But Informative at Geminis
McLaughlin, Loc Dao, Tyler Kealer, Kris McLaughlin and Nate Smith. Alberta-based Clearwater Documentary’s Code Breakers won two Geminis, one for Best Photography in a Documentary Program or Series for Daron Donahue and one for Best Science, Technology, Nature, Environment or Adventure Documentary for Niobe Thompson. Saskatchewan’s second Gemini went to Hell on Hooves which won the Best General Information Series award for Juxtapose Productions Inc.’s Dennis Hrapchak and Douglas Hudema. Manitoba’s second Gemini came from Frantic Films’ Til Debt Do Us Part which won the Best Lifestyle/ Practical Information Series prize for Jamie Brown and Jennifer Horvath. Manitoba’s other Gemini came on the second night, on which the Academy of Canadian Cinema hands out winners in its Drama, Children’s or Youth, Comedy and Variety categories. Like several of the western awards on Night 2, it was for performance. The cast of Todd and the Book of Pure Evil was chosen for Best Ensemble Performance in a Comedy Program or Series. The winners were Alex House, Maggie Castle, Angela Jill Guingcango, Chris Leavins, Melanie Leishman, Jason Mewes and Bill Turnbull. Winnipeg-based APTN’s The 18th Annual National Aboriginal Achievement Awards won awards for Best Performance or Host in a Variety Program or Series (Individual or Ensemble) for Adam Beach and Evan Adams and a Best Photography in a Variety or Performing Arts Program or Series for Kelly Jones. BC’s Barry Pepper won the Gemini for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series for playing Bobby Kennedy in The Kennedys. The Alberta series Heartland won a Best Performance by an Actress in a Guest Role, Dramatic Series for native daughter Alberta Watson. Two Vancouver-based animated series won Geminis. Nerd Corp’s Hot Wheels – Force Five won the Best Animated Program or Series award for Doug Murphy, Tina Chow, Ken Faier, Ace Fipke, Chuck Johnson, Pam Lehn, Audu Paden, Ira Singerman, Barry Waldo and Irene Weibel and the company’s League of Super Evil won the Best Original Music Score for an Animated Program or Series for Hal Beckett. n Reel West September / October 2011
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