Category Archives: Spotlight

Moving Forward With Short Films: Spotlight on Lisa Anita Wegner

Watching a short film can be a temporary stress reliever. For a little while at least, the viewer can absorb him or herself into whatever short they have selected and their worldly cares quickly go away. String a few of them together and you have made a little short film festival that can help you to relax, have fun and take your mind off of things for the time being.

But, what about those who suffer stress as a disability, such as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD)? What if you are the filmmaker, not the viewer, who needs help with managing this disability? Where and how do you reach out for help? Toronto-based filmmaker, actress, curator and speaker Lisa Anita Wegner can shed some light on this serious matter. Lisa is the founder of Mighty Brave Productions/Haus of Dada and the co-founder of Akhilanda Collaborative. Since using filmmaking as therapy for her c-PTSD, Lisa’s film production has doubled and her career has taken her into new directions with considerable screenings of her films in Arizona.

Short Film Fan reached out to Lisa to learn more about how she has used short filmmaking to manage her c-PTSD. Below, she describes in her own words her personal journey.

 

Short Film Fan: Who or what influenced you to become filmmaker? 

Lisa Anita Wegner: I was a shy kid who lived in Toronto with my German and Austrian immigrant family. I remember not understanding English and being really nervous out in the world. I found comfort first in my dressing up and imagining myself as other characters like Wonder Woman, Laura Ingalls, Mary Poppins and Lil’ Orphan Annie. After a while, I wanted to perform these inner imaginations and started doing plays where I needed more kids and sometimes adult help. I got together a neighbourhood Mary Poppins play in kindergarten. In grade two, I asked my school principal to use part of our class time for rehearsal and arranged it so that we would perform Annie in the auditorium.

When I had a project, I was fearless. Kids who had no interest in me otherwise wanted to be in my plays. It felt like I was doing the right thing. All through school, I continued to produce plays with whatever resources I had. I also acted in school and professional plays, eventually touring nationally as an actor with English Suitcase Theatre. I really felt the most whole when I was performing. I kept acting in film and TV and literally never stopped creating my own projects.

SFF: Can you tell us a little bit about your work in the early days of your career?

LAW: Around the turn of the century, I had a revelation: the filmmaker shows the audience where to look. It’s so intimate because you have the audience’s eyes.  That blew my mind. I wasn’t a kid who grew up with a video camera, so I started looking for film directors to collaborate with when I started Mighty Brave Productions. At that time, I didn’t generate my own content; I needed the input of writers, directors, editors and cinematographers. I had final say on every aspect of a production, usually with the director. I also worked as a TV and film actress in Toronto and Montreal.  I was running a small production company known for my comedic work and I was fiercely proud, I was sure I was on the right path.

SFF: In 2009, something happened to you that affected you and your filmmaking career. Can you describe to us what it was and what challenge or challenges it posed for you? 

LAW: In May 2008, I went to the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner with my short, The Gospel of Phi. I had known there was something wrong with me for a while, but I had put 200% effort getting ready for my first European film festival. So, I thought I was just exhausted. Once in France, I found myself completely unable to function or communicate properly. There was something very wrong.  I only left my rental accommodation to unsuccessfully get juice. I flew straight back to Toronto without getting to the festival and thought I just needed a few months rest.

When I got home, things got worse and for over a year I wasn’t able to get out of bed and was overwhelmed by the smallest task. I slept about 20 hours a day and I felt like my brain had gone offline. In 2009, I was diagnosed as having complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Later that year, I started receiving help from Women’s College Hospital and started receiving Ontario Disability Support.

SFF: Who or what encouraged you to make short films as part of your therapy?

LAW: From 2008-2011, I spent most of my time in bed with my dog and my laptop. Communicating anything was really hard, and my friends and colleagues were worried about my silence. I used images of myself shot with my webcam first of all to figure out who I was; I genuinely was not sure who I was at that point. I posted these to feel more real and reach out to my friends on social media. Communicating artistically was my go-to mode of expression and making things out of the footage was how I got through my hours awake. When I was at The Gerstein Centre and Women’s College Hospital’s SPEAK ART program, I was also encouraged to make art and videos to move forward. Artistically, it was pure communication; I was at a loss for words so film images were how I communicated with myself and my friends.  These weren’t originally made to be seen by the public.

One of my social media friends was Steve Weiss, a film programmer who screened my previous work. He invited my short film so who am I anyway to Selections 2011 at The Phoenix Art Museum.

Eva Gets a Better Job was also screened later that year at The Herberger Theatre Centre. This was the ultimate encouragement that people in the film community wanted to see this therapeutic work.

Steve then arranged a screening and a talk for me at Short Film Bar, and it was the first time I spoke publicly about how art saved my life. For the first time, I felt like an artist and not someone who couldn’t get out of bed.

Now I can’t stop making work like this. Without access to film equipment, I use my laptop or my phone. Without power, I paint, draw or collage. There is an unstoppable well of stories in me busting to get out in many formats.  Through all this creating, it’s obvious to me that at heart I’m a performer and a filmmaker.

SFF: How has producing short films helped you with c-PTSD?

LAW: My daily art practise keeps my c-PTSD symptoms at bay. Living with a stress disorder, I must arrange my studio days to be as stress free as possible. I continue the intuitive process of creating on my feet and I film it as I go. Editing is where I find the moments that interest me.  I have used a blue screen studio donated by Mary-Margaret Scrimger (from Akhilanda Collaborative) and most days, I create bite-sized photo and video content.  If there is value in a bite-sized project, I tend to take more bites.

Most of my current work comes out as performance, photo and video sketches; however, some of these turn into full-grown pieces. It’s really the creative output that is my therapy. I work largely on my own or with interns. With my imagination primed and focused, my therapeutic workflow is smooth and familiar and is now turning into a body of work. The producing and getting the work out into the world is a benefit I am now enjoying, but it’s the content creation that helps my PTSD.

SFF: Can you tell us more about your short film, The Way Back Home? 

LAW: Kirsten Leila Edwards curated a MASH UP Art Party for the Hercinia Arts Collective in the winter of 2015. I was matched up with The Aerial Mermaid Clone Army which was Ashley Hurlock and Tamara Arenovich, two aerialists who performed as mermaids.  In a few short collaborative meetings and rehearsals, we had come up with a live multimedia performance of three mermaid sisters getting lost in a storm called The Way Back Home.  We had the privilege of performing it multiple times live in Toronto. With the addition of Pink Moth (Ray Cammaert) making music and a third aerialist artist Mary-Margaret Scrimger, we formed Akhilanda Collaborative.  Mary-Margaret brought the blue screen studio into the mix and donated the space to shoot.  As the project developed, I felt it was strong enough to work as a short film. It premiered at the Mesa Art Centre season kick off in Arizona on September 8th, 2017.

 

SFF: Would you recommend short filmmaking to others in your field who may be experiencing similar health issues?

LAW: The reason it worked for me is because visual storytelling is coursing through my veins. When my regular cognition wasn’t working, this form of communication kicked in. I couldn’t complete a task, shower, dress or eat much, but I could stand up from my sweaty bed, and shoot, edit and post relatively complex video pieces. I recommend any form of expression that feels natural and comes easy to the individual as therapy. Because film is so technically easy to shoot and edit now, it is a viable option for anyone.  I encourage folks not to be overly concerned with the content as then it leaves the therapeutic realm. I know that’s hard but just keep making stuff.

SFF: What new short film projects can we look forward to seeing you in next?

LAW: Last month, I completed my first film commission entitled Life on Mars with Thin(k) Blank Human with Barton Weiss Productions in Arizona. It was created for a particular Phoenix Arizona art installation that has not launched yet. There will be an artist talk in Toronto in the winter and Canadian screenings will be announced. This was the first time that my performance persona Thin(k) Blank Human was written for and directed by anyone else. The creative process started in Arizona with backgrounds created and photographed by Rick Tashi. It was scripted in Phoenix and all the performances were shot by me on the blue screen in Toronto.  A super fun creative project to have the freedom to play on Mars!

I’m also finishing a short documentary, Being Inside the Glacier II: Further Conversation, the second chapter documenting the performer experience in Anandam Dance Theatre’s performance GLACIOLOGY that was in Toronto’s Suit Blanche in 2015. And, I’m starting to edit another Akhilanda Collaborative short film about fed-up aerialist French maids. And my ongoing project The Fictitious History of the Haus of Dada has chapters added on a regular basis.

SFF: What is your most favourite film project that you ever worked on, short or feature?

LAW: If All You Have Is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail is a triptych film made by Will Kwan for the Reel Asian Film Festival by Gendai Gallery. In 2013, Shannon Cochrane of FADO sent me the audition information about Will Kwan’s film. This was the first time since my diagnosis that I had an audition for a narrative scripted film. Working again with my union, I was cast in a meaty role with 16 pages of dialogue.  Without a rig, I’d be driving myself while doing these monologue style scenes with actor Michael Man.

I used to have a specialty of learning lines quickly. It came easy and I worked really hard at the same time.  I wasn’t sure how my c-PTSD would react to the stressful tasks of memorizing and shooting. The shoot days were scorching hot and we couldn’t have the air conditioner on because we were recording sound.  After a few shots, I realized I still had this acting skill set; I was able to drive the car as needed and deliver take after take with accurate dialogue and craft a character for film.  Once I realized this, I had the most fun with the rest of the shoot and really enjoyed acting again.

If All You Have Is a Hammer, Everything Looks Like a Nail was commissioned for a project called Model Minority. I played a real estate agent who is that kind of privileged white lady who claims “we’re not racist [here in Canada]” while saying a slew of inappropriate things. Embodying this character was interesting, as this is a type of racism here in Canada that needs further examination.

Will’s film has been screening in galleries since opening and is currently running until end of November at the University of Toronto Art Gallery at Hart House.

SFF: Based on your experiences, do you have any advice for any short film producers in Canada?

LAW: Most filmmakers are keen to make one short film as a calling card and move on to feature films.  A body of work that represents the filmmaker is so important to have a lifelong career.  And it is the time without executives, where you have full creative control. Enjoy this! Shorts are an elegant, economical way to tell a story and see the benefit of this medium in our current impatient cultural climate. I’d say, never stop making short films.   Figure out exactly what kind of film it is you love, and then keep making it.  When a filmmaker complains about the industry, saying they have made one short film and nothing happened, I say make twenty short films over five years and I guarantee something will.

 

We thank Lisa very much for sharing her very personal and inspiring story with us. We wish her all the best in her film career. To learn more about Lisa, please visit her blog at www.lisaismightybrave.com . To view more her work, be sure to check out www.mightybraveproductions.com and www.akhilandacollaborative.com 

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Keeping The New Artistic Pace Going: Spotlight On Katie Boland

Have you noticed how some people branch out into a variety of paths during their career? You might be working with someone right now who not only is committed to his or her day job, but who is also working on one or two side projects that complement their career path. There might be a sales representative in your office who also teaches a marketing course at night, for example. Being multi-faceted in one’s career requires hard work, time and perseverance. But, it also can add a certain depth and breadth to one’s career that can be personally satisfying and rewarding.

If you are thinking about widening your career path and are looking to draw some inspiration from someone in Canada’s film and television industry, look no further than Canadian actress, producer and writer Katie Boland. This young, dynamic and multi-talented actress from Toronto, ON, has an impressive and lengthy resume and has no plans to stop anytime soon. From short films and feature lengths, to web series and book publishing, Katie is highly passionate about and dedicated to her work.img_0526

When she’s not acting or writing, Katie runs the production company, Straight Shooters, with her mom and award-winning director, Gail Harvey. Before her father retired, Kevin Boland was a well-known journalist and a best-selling author. Katie’s career isn’t only limited to family influences, however; she also enjoys working with her friends and strangers alike in the industry.

Short Film Fan recently reached out to Katie during her very busy schedule to learn more about herself, her career and her insights into shorts films in Canada.

 

Short Film Fan: Who or what influenced you to become an actress?

Katie Boland: I knew I wanted to be an actress when I was three years old. My mother was a stills photographer at that time, and is now a very successful director. So, I think growing up being surrounded by the film industry must have had an impact. But, I would say my defining characteristic as a person is that I am obsessively curious. Even as a small I child all I wanted to do was ask other people questions.  So, I think, being an actress was always about trying to find answers to all the questions I had about people. It still is. I wanted to be an actress because I wanted to get to live as other people, to understand other people, to be able to ask and answer every question I had.

 

SFF:   What was the experience like when you trained as an actress?

KB: I didn’t really train as an actress. I have worked since I was about eight without any real break, so I didn’t train which sometimes I regret and other times I don’t. I learned on the job and have worked very closely with some amazing directors. Honestly, huge life experiences have been my greatest teachers. You go through a break up, you’re a better actress. You lose your grandfather, you’re a better actress. You go to therapy and deal with some of your b******t, you’re a better actress. You start writing; at first you write about yourself and then you get the confidence to write about some other people, you’re a better actress. The way I look at acting is that my experiences are my source material. Classes scare me. Maybe it’s part of my asking questions or that I’m rebellious, but I get freaked out by anyone who wants to be a ‘guru’. Anyone who covets that kind of power probably shouldn’t have it. I know some wonderful teachers; people who really help very impressionable and vulnerable young actors. But, I’ve also seen teachers destroy people. I have always taken what works for me and left the rest. I let life inform most of my work.

 

img_0527SFF:  Not only do you have multiple film and television credits, you’ve also written and produced the highly-praised web series Long Story, Short, published a book of short stories called Eat Your Heart Out and you were recently appointed by federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly to review Canada’s current cultural policies with a panel of other Canadian cultural experts. Where do you find the time and energy to work on all these projects?

KB: Truthfully, I’m tired but taking a day off freaks me out. Being this busy, things slip. I’m forgetful. My social life suffers, but my hope is that my life is only going to get fuller. I feel I don’t have a choice but to keep going at the pace I am. I think this is the new artistic model. I really admire James Franco because he’s not putting himself in a box. He’s doing it all. He directs, acts in everything from Oscar movies and soap operas, produces, writes fiction and has a dope Instagram. What I also really love about him is that he doesn’t seem to be super concerned with reception. I’m often of the mind that what other people think of your work isn’t really your business. To answer your question, I find the time to do a lot of things because all I do is work. I don’t really have the energy, but I push through anyway because I really love trying to do it all.

 

SFF:  You’ve been involved in a long and impressive list of short and feature-length films. How does acting in a short film compare with acting in a feature?

KB: In my mind, it’s the exact same. You’re just trying to be whatever person you’re playing, and you’re trying to serve the story as best you can. That’s how I look at it anyway, there’s no real difference.

 

SFF:  In the short film The Date by Mazi Khalighi, you starred as ‘Steph’ opposite Noah Reid, who played ‘Mike’. This film was definitely different, as all the acting took place in one spot: at a restaurant table. What was it like working on this unique film project?

KB: It was definitely very unique! Noah Reid is one of my favourite people and Mazi is a really good friend. So, we had a lot of fun. But we also improv-ed most of it and shot it in basically two set ups in one day. So, in a lot of ways, it felt like a play. We did really long takes.

 

SFF: In another short film, Given Your History by Molly McGlynn, you played ‘Alanna’, whose mother had passed away from breast cancer. There was a moment in the film that Alanna thought that she also may have breast cancer. How did you prepare for this challenging and moving role?

KB: Molly McGlynn is one of my best friends and she lost her mother to breast cancer. She wrote this short based on her experience, so to play a version of her was an incredible honour but also something I took really seriously. I love Molly so much and I know what a wonderful woman her mother was, so I really wanted to do it justice. It wasn’t hard to access the tragedy of the story. I didn’t find it challenging to be Alanna. Molly is such a good writer; all the tragedy and complicated feelings were on the page. Also, I’ve said this before in interviews I think, but right as we were shooting that short I was in a fevered grief state over a break up, so to finding that kind of sadness in myself wasn’t particularly difficult.

 

SFFimg_0530:  Besides acting in short films, you’ve also produced a number of them. What challenges have you faced as a producer of short films?

KB: I love producing short films! Last year I produced Boxing which premiered at TIFF, was a Sundance Short Film Select and was directed by two of my closest friends who I also have a film collective with: Aidan Shipley and Grayson Moore. I was in a feature they directed that we wrapped a few months ago called Cardinal. I also produced Lucy in Her Eyes; my best friend Megan Park’s directorial debut that is premiering at the Austin Film Festival in October! When producing Boxing, I worked alongside Mackenzie Donaldson who is a powerhouse producer and I learned a ton from her. The challenges are trying to pull everything together with a limited budget. But getting to watch my best friend’s work, to be involved on the ground level of that kind of talent; it’s so exciting. I’m so lucky.

 

SFF:  What is your most memorable moment working on a short film, either as an actress or a producer?

KB: Hm, this is a good one. We did a really long one take shot in Boxing that is a fight scene at the end of the movie. I think watching Aidan and Grayson’s joy when we finally got the take, watching the super talented cinematographer, Guy Godfree, pull it off; that was really exciting. Also, the scene where I’m lying in bed in Given Your History, next to Rachel Wilson who plays my sister – that was memorable. I was crying really hard about a lot of things and it felt cathartic. Just being lying down next to another human in that moment felt healing and devastating. It was weird but it was cool.

 

SFF:  In your opinion, what draws people to watch Canadian short films?

KB: I think short films are how our great film makers get started. How it usually works in Canada is you get funding a short film, like through bravoFact. Then, you get to go to Telefilm and try to make a feature. So, I think by watching Canadian short films, you’re discovering new voices. I also think it’s the art form that is, to be crude, the least f****d with. You aren’t dealing with a million notes from a million different people. You’re allowed to stay true to whatever vision you have as a filmmaker or a writer. That’s honestly very rare. So, I think people are drawn to the authenticity.

 

SFF:  Do you think short film viewership in Canada will grow in the future?

KB: I hope so. Sometimes I wonder what purpose short films really serve because no one is making money from them. But, I hope we continue to make them. I hope we keep funding bravoFact. bravoFact mandates that they give 50% of their money to female filmmakers. Maybe soon, Telefilm will follow suit. The truth is, we can take more risks on short films. Film and television are often risk-averse by design, so we need short films. It’s the least diluted art form we have. In Canada, in the arts, we need to take more risks.

 

SFF:  What new short or feature film projects can we look forward to seeing you in next?

KB: I have three films coming out this year: Cardinal, (directed by my best friends Aidan and Grayson), Love of my Life, a British-Canadian co-pro and Joseph and Mary, a biblical period piece. I also have television shows in development that I’ve created and am writing, so I hope one of them goes. It’s a long process. Megan Park and I just wrapped new web series called We’re Adults Now that we’re shooting in New York City! We co-wrote, co-created, co-directed and co-starred in We’re Adults Now and I am truly excited about it. I also wrote a short film called Lolz-Ita that I got bravoFact funding for and we shoot in December. Last year, I produced a documentary that was directed by my mother, Gail Harvey, on Rickie Lee Jones, called The Other Side of Desire that is now available on iTunes and Amazon. My mom and I are also shooting a movie this winter based on a Linwood Barclay novel called Never Saw it Coming.

 

img_0528SFF:  Do you have any advice for any up-and-coming actors and actresses in Canada?

KB: Yes! If there’s anything else that will make you happy, do that. But if there’s not – congratulations you’re in for a wild ride! Try and make things with your friends. You can do it. I did. If it’s bad, who cares, just get better. Your only job is to try to be as good as you can possibly be. Focus on that; don’t focus on being famous. Try and be good; that will lead you to the right crowds and the right mentors. That’s the right energy to be in. Other actors and creative people are your best friends and greatest allies. My best friends are other actresses. We are each other’s greatest support. You need to understand that there is room for everyone and that people rise up together. Dream big, and as Drake says, get the jokers out of your deck. Lots of people are going to tell you why you can’t do it. The only reason I’ve had any success at all is because I’ve persevered. Try and recognize that no matter where you are, there are challenges. They just shift and take different shapes. It’s always going to be difficult, so try to enjoy where you are right now. Also, good luck!

 

Katie’s enterprising and enduring nature is very inspiring. As she previously mentioned, being involved in multiple projects can makes one’s life too busy, but it is becoming the new norm in acting. The same can be said about other professional careers, as well. Having many projects on the go is also perhaps the best way to make sure one does not get bored or complacent in their career and life path.

We’re looking forward to seeing more of Katie’s work on screen and in print. There has been much written previously about Katie being the next rising star nationally and internationally. With her drive, talents and successes, Katie Boland will definitely become a household name much sooner than anyone could anticipate.

 

P.S. Readers: Next month, SFF will review Molly McGlynn’s Given Your History which starred Katie Boland and Rachel Wilson. Stay tuned!

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What Are They Up To Now: Alan Powell Explores The Power of Denial in ‘As One’ (2016)

Keeping in step with the promise of trying new things on Short Film Fan, ‘What Are They Up To Now’ is the latest feature that will show up here from time to time. The goal is to touch base with those who have been previously interviewed on SFF and to explore what has been going on in their careers since their last appearance on the site. In this first edition of ‘What Are They Up To Now’, Short Film Fan reconnected with Canadian filmmaker Alan Powell, now a resident of London, UK, to talk about his latest short, As One.

 

Many people are often oblivious to the fact that they live in a state of denial. Living in denial can occur, for example, when a person ignores the pain and suffering that he or she experienced sometime in the past and pretends that everything is alright with their present lives. Or, someone may be in denial if he or she chooses to ignore his or her current needs and learns to live without them instead. For a while, the denial works and the person lives life somewhat happily. But, at some point, something will happen or someone will say something that breaks down the person’s denial barrier and those blocked inner feelings are released quickly and powerfully.

Alan Powell’s 11-minute short As One (2016) looks at this delicate topic through a woman’s struggle with her current relationship situation. Twice-divorced Maggie (Janie Dee) is on her way to a wedding in a classic London black cab along with her daughter Abi (Jeany Spark) and two other passengers: Douglas (Neil Morrissey) and Danny (Edward MacLiam). By the time the party reaches their destination, Maggie’s life, in a sense, has been deconstructed and she’s left to pick up the painful pieces and carry on. Watch the trailer:

In last year’s interview on Short Film Fan, Alan was in the middle of working on As One. Now complete, the film will have its North American premiere at the 35th Vancouver International Film Festival this month, as well as its European premiere this coming November at the 31st Festival Européen du Film Court de Brest in France . Short Film Fan followed up with Alan to get some input from him on why he made As One and how living in London influences his filmmaking:

 

Short Film Fan:  What motivated you to make this short?

Alan Powell: It started with the expression ‘never underestimate the power of denial’. I first heard it in the film American Beauty. I thought it was a fascinating line and it stayed with me. What can the power of denial actually do? It can create a life full of lies and delusions to protect oneself from the fact that they’re unhappy or living in deep-seated pain and unwilling to face the truth. This resonated with me. I know people who live their lives or have lived their lives never wanting to peak outside the bubble they created for themselves. I wanted to explore the journey of a woman who knows the truth that exists outside that bubble yet denies its presence in her life. What does that look like? How would she deal with it? As One is really a character study of the dynamics denial creates in relationships.

SFF:  You mentioned previously that As One was a short that you originally had set in Toronto, ON. Besides the change in location, in what ways did producing As One in London, UK, affect the film’s original concept and final result?as-one-poster

AP: Setting it in a Black Cab in London enhanced the concept. It’s a tight space and visually compliments the film’s theme. In Canada, there’s no way I could have had the same dynamic in a cab. The historic Black Cabs are designed to sit two passengers across from another two. So the four passengers are facing each other which was ideal blocking for As One. In terms of London as a location, maybe it’s just me but shooting here is far more pleasing visually to the eye because of the history that’s here. The textures, the tone it sets, all of it looks great on film.  Then, there are the actors. Again, maybe it’s just me, but the accents, the authenticity they bring to their work; it all feels very sophisticated for this Canadian boy :). Canada equally has these elements, too, but you really can’t compare the two countries. What also helps is having a cinematographer that knows how to capture beautiful images. Oliver Ford has shot two films for me so far. He won an award for the last one (Phone Box). He’s a true artist and he makes me look great!

SFF: How does making a short in London compare to making a short in Toronto, in general?

AP: Same challenges. The only difference I can see is that you have access to name talent here. I think it’s pretty cool that Sir Ian McKellen lives down the road from us. We saw him at our local supermarket last Christmas. When I was living in Wapping, Rod Stewart lived nearby too. So, this is a pretty cool place. Some of Hollywood’s biggest names still live in London and some will consider doing short films if the script is strong enough. That’s why Neil Morrissey came on-board. He shot to fame in the 90’s with his role of Tony in the sitcom ‘Men Behaving Badly’. He’s been busy ever since. He’s still considered royalty here, so it was an honour to have him join the cast.

SFF: Are you satisfied with leaving As One as a short, or would you consider turning it into a feature?

AP: You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve developed the script for the feature film. It recaps the short in the first 5 minutes and then carries on from there with the same tone and pace. Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to putting it on the screen next.

 

Short Film Fan Review: The cab ride was definitely the perfect place to expose and ultimately defeat Maggie’s denial of her deep unhappiness. At first, we see a cheerful Maggie; feeling alive from the energy that London offers. However, as the conversations between the four passengers continue during the cab ride, Maggie’s protective barriers slowly start crumbling away. Could this same turn of events have happened during or after the wedding? The film made a very good point with the fact that in denying ourselves, we deny others in the process; creating isolation and further denial. Seeing the Black Cab travel through a busy London evening was a treat and the view of Big Ben at the beginning of the film was stunning. As One was a perfect mix of drama and comedy that is worth watching more than once.

As One screens in Canada at Vancouver Film Festival on October  7th and 9th. Get your tickets soon and don’t miss this opportunity to see Alan Powell’s latest short! If you happen to catch As One at VIFF, Tweet your thoughts about the film to him directly @alan_powell.

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Always ‘Make The Film You Want To Make’: Spotlight On BJ Verot

When we come up with an idea for something, two things can happen. Either we criticize, over-think and shelve the idea, or we embrace it, give it some serious thought and bring the idea to fruition. In the case of BJ Verot, director and producer at Strata Studios in Winnipeg, MB, he and Brad Crawford (who co-directed and produced the film with BJ) chose the latter path with the hilarious short film, Loss of Contact.

Loss of Contact, about a champion racewalker who drops out of a race due to an injury, was a runaway success for BJ and Brad lately. This past February, Loss of Contact earned the duo a Windy Award in the Director: Short Fiction category from the Winnipeg Film Group. Last October, the film helped BJ and Brad win a $45,000 film production prize package in front of a national audience on the CBC-TV show, Short Film Face Off.

Short Film Fan caught up with BJ Verot during his very hectic schedule and he shared some of his thoughts about the television show appearance, the idea behind Loss of Contact and his career in filmmaking.

 

Short Film Fan: First of all, congratulations go to you and Brad on winning last year’s CBC Short Film Face Off contest with Loss of Contact.  What was it like being, competing and winning on the show?

BJ Verot and Brad Crawford (Photo by Robert Short)
BJ Verot and Brad Crawford (Photo by Robert Short)

BJ Verot: It was great to be a part of the show.  We went in with tempered expectations, and were looking to meet and hang out with other filmmakers from around Canada.  It’s always a bit nerve-wracking when you’re up in the hot seat open to criticism. But, it comes with the territory.  Film is such a subjective thing, that we really weren’t sure if the panellists would be into our film. But, luckily, they really enjoyed it. In some ways, once we made it to the final round, the pressure was off.  It was up to Canada to vote, so you really can’t worry too much about how it’s going to go.  All three films in the finals were solid, so it was just going to come down to the numbers.  That being said, we did receive a HUGE amount of support through our local film industry here in Manitoba (Manitoba Film & Music, Winnipeg Film Group, On Screen Manitoba, and ACTRA Manitoba).

SFF: Where or how did you come up with the idea to produce Loss of Contact?

BJV: The idea came up when I was sliding around on my friend’s hardwood floors.  There was a mirror on the wall and I thought that the hypnotic gyrations of my hips reminded me of racewalkers who competed in the Olympics.  I couldn’t shake the idea, and by the time I got home, I already had a rough trajectory of the story arc and some of the characters that would be involved in the film.

SFF: Why did you choose filmmaking as a career path?

BJV: I didn’t choose film – film chose me (ha-ha).  When I was young, I was allowed to watch a lot of intense films such as Terminator, Jaws, Aliens, Predator, and I loved it.  As a kid, I was blown away that people could make a living making these crazy stories for people to enjoy.

SFF: What specific challenges do you face as a filmmaker when producing a short film?

BJ Verot (Photo by Robert Short)
BJ Verot (Photo by Robert Short)

BJV: Oftentimes, you have to be quite ambitious on very little money.  I guess for me personally, my biggest challenge is trying to make sure I can get the most value on the screen and finding fun ways to do so.  When I’m talking with Brad, or Andrew (another member of the Strata team) we often ask: “What is something visually inventive we can incorporate where people might say, ‘how did they do that’?” We want to impose challenges on ourselves on set so that we can continue to grow as well.  That approach feeds into the next project, and how we tackle larger, and more tricky sequences.

SFF: Do you have any new short film projects on the horizon?

BJV: I always have new short film ideas popping into my head.  The key is finding the right one to put your time and energy into.  I have a few key concepts in mind, and with the prize money we earned through Short Film Face Off, we’ll be able to really push the envelope in terms of what we’re able to do.  Comedy and science fiction are probably the two genres I enjoy the most, so I’m pretty sure the next short we pump out will fall into that spectrum.

SFF: What other film projects do you work on besides short films?

BJV: We primarily focus on film/television.  Around 2011-2013, we were heavy into documentaries.  Some of our most notable works in that field are: 100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience and Scheduled Violence.  We’ve had a pretty strong shift into narrative projects since then, and we have a few major projects in development at the moment.  I can’t quite go into detail just yet, but things are on the verge of getting pretty hectic.

SFF: What are your hopes and predictions for the short film industry in Canada?

BJV: I want the short film industry to keep expanding, with new initiatives for emerging filmmakers.  It also seems that with digital distribution becoming so commonplace, it’s easier to find ways to get your project out into the world and extend its shelf life for people to enjoy.

SFF: Do you have any advice for any up-and-coming Canadian short filmmakers?

BJ Verot (Photo by Robert Short)
BJ Verot (Photo by Robert Short)

BJV: Make the film you want to make, and don’t worry too much about what people think.  A lot of people get hung up on what opinion people will have of their film, and will hold off making it until all of the conditions are perfect.  The fact of the matter is that the conditions will rarely (if ever) be perfect.  You create your own momentum based on the projects and content you create.  If you don’t take the first step, it’s increasingly more difficult to take the next one.

Focus on specific elements for a project and see if you can incorporate that into the tapestry of the film.  Want to use a Steadicam?  Consider a short project that might benefit from that cinematic style.  Remember, anyone can try to emulate another person’s style, so focus on finding your voice as a filmmaker and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Ultimately, if you begin to find success, it’s much sweeter if you get to do it with your own style attached to the projects you get to work on.  And finally, have fun!  I weigh a lot of my decisions moving forward on how enjoyable my time will be while working on a project.

 

We can’t wait to see which new short film idea BJ and his cohorts will bring to the big and small screens next. Whatever genre it may be, we’re sure that it will have the same quality, humour and unique style as Loss of Contact. Maybe another award-winning short is forthcoming? Only time will tell.

We wish BJ all the best of luck for the future. Follow him on Twitter to see what he’s up to!

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Sharing Stories For The Love Of It: Spotlight on Lisa Rose Snow

Someone once said “do what you love and the rest will follow”. Certainly good fortune has followed the love Lisa Rose Snow has shown for the arts and short film making.

(Photo by Brent McCombs)
(Lisa Rose Snow. Photo: Brent McCombs)

Lisa Rose Snow is a young film maker originally from Nova Scotia who now resides in Toronto. Since childhood, she has involved herself in a variety of artistic pursuits, including acting. Her onscreen credits include appearances on the CBC comedy program, ‘This Hour Has 22 Minutes’, and the 2002 mini-series, ‘Trudeau’. Her experience in acting then led her to learn more about film making.

As a result, Snow won the Best Canadian Short Award at the Silver Wave Film Festival with her short film ‘Two Penny Road Kill’.  As well, she picked up the Audience Best of the Fest Award at the San Jose International Short Film Festival and the National Screen Institute Drama Prize for her short, ‘When Fish Fly’. In 2013, Snow established Organic Water Productions Inc. with her friend and producer, Lora Campbell. The production company focuses on female-driven stories with realistic and complex characters.

Short Film Fan recently caught up with Snow to learn more about her background, her career path and her insights into the Canadian short film industry.

 

Short Film Fan: At what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to become a film maker?

Lisa Rose Snow: I’ve been involved in the arts since I was a child, taking piano, dance, and acting lessons since an early age. My first time on a film set was when I was in high school on the CBC mini-series, ‘Trudeau’. I continued to act and about five years ago, began learning and experimenting and mentoring under some wonderful people behind the camera. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

SFF: What specific challenges do you face as a film maker when producing a short film?

LRS: There are many challenges short film makers encounter when producing a short, and a lot of them are similar to the challenges of producing a feature! Even though the projects are shorter, there is still much paperwork, prep and factors that arise out of your control. And funding – there’s always the challenge of funding.

SFF: Last year, you were one of the competing film makers on CBC’s ‘Short Film Face Off‘ with your film, ‘Two Penny Road Kill’. What was it like being on the program and what did you take away from that experience?

LRS: It was a real honour to be a part of ‘Short Film Face Off’. It’s an incredible program and it really highlights the talented shorter form work coming out of Canada. It was a great chance to meet film makers whom I admire, and have a chance to share my story with a larger audience. I am always intrigued by audience reaction and love having an opportunity to have dialogues with people who may not have seen the film otherwise.

SFF: Your film short film, ‘When Fish Fly’, premiered at The One Film Festival in Ottawa on May 23rd. In your opinion as a film maker, how important is it that film festivals such as this feature short films as part of their programming?

LRS: ‘When Fish Fly’ had its Ottawa Premiere at The One, and we were so happy to have a chance to play at this new festival. I think it’s extremely important to program shorts. It’s always so interesting to condense a story down to its essence, and with a short you really get to focus on what it is you’re trying to say. Also, there are so many great short film makers in the world; a shorts program is a perfect way to see a variety of artists’ work.

SFF: Can you tell us more about, ‘When Fish Fly’? Where can we watch it if we can’t attend The One?

LRS: ‘When Fish Fly’ is a dialogue-less exploration of grief told through the eyes of a 9-year-old girl. It’s about courage and letting go. It’s currently making the festival rounds and we have some exciting news to share, but I’m not allowed to say anything yet!! Check us out on Twitter for all the updates as we are allowed to share them: @WhenFishFlyFilm

SFF: Do you have any new short film projects on the horizon?

LRS: I always have a number of projects on the horizon; that’s the way it seems to work; various projects in various forms of development/completion. I tend to focus on women-driven character pieces, and have an action adventure short in pre-production that takes place in the 1920s and a family comedy about an 8-year-old girl’s first crush.

(Lisa Rose Snow with producer Lora Campbell and actor Daniel Lillford. Photo by Brent McCombs)
(Lisa Rose Snow with producer Lora Campbell and actor Daniel Lillford. Photo: Brent McCombs)

SFF: In your opinion, why do you think people like to watch short films?

LRS: People these days can have shorter attention spans, and because everyone’s time is so precious, a short gives them an opportunity to have a mini-escape, feel some feelings, but still be able to get all their own stuff done.

SFF: What are your hopes and predictions for the short film industry in Canada?

LRS: My hopes are that it continues to flourish and continues to be funded. There are a few really great programs that offer some financing and opportunities for broadcast, so my hopes are these programs continue to be active and supportive of sharing Canadian content.

SFF: Do you have any advice for any up-and-coming short film makers in Canada?

LRS: Just do it! Nike really said it best. Don’t just talk about making shorts; actually make them. And don’t be afraid to ask questions; people will help you! I owe a lot to the people who let me pick their brains and ask a million questions, and patiently shared their knowledge and skills. Also, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Do you have a story you need to share? Then share it! Don’t do it for glory. Don’t do it for money. Just do it for the love of it.

 

We wish Lisa Rose Snow a very successful film making career and we hope to see more of her short films in the future! Follow her on Twitter: @lisarosesnow

Check your local independent cinema or festival listing for a showing of ‘When Fish Fly’. You can also follow the film on Twitter:  @WhenFishFlyFilm

 

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

 

Making Films With Passion, Emotion, Experience: Spotlight on Alan Powell

When someone is searching for a career path, the advice that is often given is “follow your passion”, “give it your all” and “do what you know”. It is evident that Canadian film director Alan Powell has followed this advice to the letter. Powell first began his career in Toronto, Ontario, with acting. In 1991, he launched PNA where he was a voice over agent, producing and directing voice overs for a vast array of clients. In 2005, Powell founded his creative and video production service company, Facilitator Films. He has directed programming for such television channels as The History Channel, The Biography Channel and FX. He has also worked on educational projects for the Centre For Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children.

Powell is an accomplished short film maker, producing a number of short films that have earned him nominations and awards from film festivals in Canada, the U.S., and Australia. In 2014, he was a contestant on the CBC program, Short Film Face Off, in which he advanced to the show’s final round.

Now living in London, UK, and working on his newest short, ‘As One’, we reached out to Powell to learn about him, his work, and his thoughts on the Canadian short film industry.

 

Short Film Fan:  At what point in your life did you decide that you wanted to become a film maker? Were there any family, friends or teachers that encouraged you to pursue this career path?

Alan Powell:  I was an actor first, then a voice over agent for 10 years. Then, I returned to acting. At that point, I found that I started to become very frustrated with the acting process mainly because the directors hadn’t a clue how to direct actors and/or they had no creative vision or statement they wanted to make with the script. And here I was – I knew what the material was saying and I was passionate about channeling that; but, there is only so much I could do as an actor to affect the final product. That’s when I decided that I needed to direct.

(Photo courtesy of Alan Powell)
(Photo courtesy of Alan Powell)

Once I made the decision everyone I knew was supportive of me. Mind you, one friend (more like one of my kids’ parents’ friends) had said to me about ten years ago something to the effect of ‘it’s going to be difficult because you’re older now’. I had no idea what he meant by that and I thought he was just being negative. But now, 10 years later, I realize what he meant. Basically, I had to start all over. Build new contacts, create the relationships and wait for those relationships to develop over time. As those contacts continue to flourish in the industry, more opportunities arise for me.

SFF:  As your website and CV state, you’re passionate about telling ‘emotionally driven stories’. What fuels this type of storytelling?

AP:  Experience. 🙂 Everyone, at some point in their lives, goes through their own ‘ring of fire’; an emotional journey or experience that changes their life forever.  When it happened to me, it was so overwhelmingly powerful and so awesomely life changing that I realized this is what my life is about. It’s about being true to ourselves and the struggle; the sacrifice to make that happen. For me, directing actors in emotionally driven stories is a constant reminder of that. My ongoing fuel is staying authentic and true to myself so I can always bring my A game to every project.

SFF:  You’re originally from Toronto, Ontario, but you now call London, England home. How do these two cities compare in terms of making and screening short films?

AP:  This could be just my experience, but I found the London film community to be more active in their outreach to support short film. For ‘Phone Box’, I had people coming to me and saying I want to help; in Toronto, I found it a little more challenging to get people on board. I’m talking more about the early years of my career in Toronto in 2005. It could be that in Toronto, I was just starting out; compared to landing in London in 2013 and already having two shorts playing festivals worldwide to critical acclaim and each picking up multiple awards. Ultimately, I think the short film communities in both cities are equally supportive. It just depends on your level of experience and success as to how quickly people will jump on board to support you.

SFF:  Your short films include ‘Across The Hall’, ‘Sunday Punch’ and ‘Phone Box’. These films have been seen internationally and have garnered you awards. How do you account for this success?

AP:  Being true to my voice and listening to my heart. I don’t take on a project unless the theme resonates with me, affects me, makes me emotional or gets me passionate. That’s the reason I direct and sometimes write because whatever is on the page has to be said and I’m the one to say it. It’s part of me – of who I am. If I feel that strongly about it, chances are the target audience will connect to it as well. I also think that the emotional journeys of the characters in my films are universal. Everyone has experienced similar emotions and can relate it back to their own life in some way, shape or form.

(Photo courtesy of Alan Powell)
(Photo courtesy of Alan Powell)

SFF:  Can you tell us more about your newest project, ‘As One’?

AP:  It’s the second short film that I’ve written (‘Sunday Punch’ being the first). It’s actually based on a storyline from a film I wrote and directed in 2009 that didn’t get much exposure. I pulled a storyline from that film and developed it further. Basically, it’s about a 50-something, twice-divorced, single woman whose loneliness becomes unbearable on the evening of her daughter’s wedding. I let the idea brew in the back of my mind for almost three years before I decided to write the script. It was originally set in Toronto; but now that I’m living in London, I decided to set it in a classic black cab as it drives the private wedding party through central London on its way to the civil ceremony. The story unfolds in the cab as it picks up each passenger. Very excited about this project, as the lead character speaks to a feature film I’m developing about the power of denial.

SFF:  What specific challenges do you face as a film maker when producing a short film?

AP:  If you’re fortunate enough to have an awesome producer on board (which is a challenge finding in of itself), then you don’t have to worry about producing at all. You can focus on the creative challenges. Mind you, a producer will tell you that raising funds is an extremely creative challenge.  But for me, if I’m producing, it’s always about the money 🙂 . The projected budgets never match the actual budgets. So you end up with the mammoth challenge of convincing people to work for low rates or to offer their services ‘in kind’. This speaks to the above answer about “how do I account for my success”; you have to be incredibly passionate to convince others to jump on board your project for no or very little pay. It’s true about the old adage ‘ask and ye shall receive’. There’s also the risk of using up all your favours; but, if you’re loyal to the people you work with and you have a solid relationship and you give them paid work, then chances are they will want to do their best to accommodate your non- or very low-paying passion projects.

SFF:  In your opinion, why do you think people like to watch short films?

AP:  I can speak to why I like watching short films – because they’re short 🙂 .  We’re inundated with films on the internet.  I like that I can get a powerful message in a short time. During the day, I may watch a short because I have 3, 5, 10 or 15 minutes to spare. I rarely watch feature films in the middle of the day. Features are for my evenings. If we’re talking about industry reasons, short films are an excellent tool to pitch ‘proof of concept’ for feature films and TV series.

SFF:  What are your hopes and predictions for the short film industry in Canada?

AP:  I would like to see the return of the Calling Card program and more funding opportunities for short films that speak to feature films. In England they are very methodical and supportive with their schemes and lottery funding in the arts. Each scheme feeds into the next. At the end of it, they spit out a feature film director. I would like to see more dovetailed funding programs in Canada that support the director at each stage rather than leaving them at the curb side after a successful application to fend for themselves.

(Photo courtesy of Alan Powell)
(Photo courtesy of Alan Powell)

SFF:  Do you have any advice for any up-and-coming short film makers in Canada?

AP:  Get lots of feedback on your scripts before you shoot. Seek out mentors who you know you can learn from and make you a better filmmaker. After you’ve shot and edited, get feedback on the fine cut too. It may scare you or make you anxious that someone may tear your film apart or your script apart but you want to make excellent films, don’t you?  That’s how it’s done. Rome not only wasn’t built in a day, it was constructed with the help of a community. Choose your community and ask them to help you construct your Rome! Oh, and make sure you have an excellent sound recordist!

 

We wish Alan all the best in his production of ‘As One’.  A funding campaign for the film has taken place on Indiegogo’s site: http://igg.me/at/asonefilm and we look forward to seeing this film in the future.

For more information about Alan Powell , visit: http://www.alanpowelldirector.com/

You can also follow him on Twitter: @alan_powell

Hard Work, Fun and Respect: Spotlight on Jennifer Liao

One of the goals at Short Film Fan is to feature people who make Canadian short films happen. This week, it’s a pleasure to post SFF’s recent interview with Toronto-based film director and producer Jennifer Liao. Jennifer runs her own production company called Believerville Productions, and is currently working on her latest film feature, ‘The End Of Days At Godfrey Global Inventory’. She graciously took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions and to share some of her thoughts:

Short Film Fan:  At what university or college did you receive your film training in?

Jennifer Liao:  I didn’t go to film school.  I have a degree in business and theatre from McGill.  I’ve learned about film making and continue to learn about film making by working on productions in different capacities, and by reading and watching and listening to as much as I can.

 SFF:  At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to become a film maker? Any family or cultural influences in making this decision?

JL: I knew pretty early on in my youth that I wanted to work in film and television, but the pursuit of an artistic career was adamantly discouraged in my household, so I was afraid of giving much voice to it.  Ironically, though, my parents first enrolled my sister and I in speech and acting training when we were really young; they saw it as a way for us to develop our language and public speaking skills.  It was a constant while I was growing up, and when I hit university, I snuck a theatre minor onto my business degree.  I intended to pursue both acting and production work professionally after graduation, and a few years in, I had an idea for a short film I wanted to direct.  I knew I’d really enjoy directing, but it was a total surprise to me how hard I was struck with the revelation that this was exactly the job I wanted to be doing while I was in the midst of shooting this film.

SFF:  Who or what were some of your film career influences?

JL: The NFB’s animated short films and the Canadian movies the CBC used to air in the middle of night.  I’m currently inspired by the films of the last few years from fledgling British directors Richard Ayoade, Peter Strickland, Andrea Arnold, Ben Wheatley, and Joe Cornish. I’ve long admired Nicole Holofcener, Ondi Timoner, Ted Hope, Mike Judge, Mike White, Karen Walton, Mynette Louie, Christine Vachon, Nira Park, and countless others.  And I aspire one day to put together a collective like that of Borderline Films, with like-minded partners trading off roles.

SFF:  How would you describe your film making style?

JL:  I’ll say that in terms of the actual process of making a film, I’m a believer in “Best Idea Wins” and no false hierarchies. So, it’s important to me to establish an environment where everyone on a project feels they have the support they need to do their best work and collaborate with each other, and can speak up if they have a suggestion or a concern.  I’m obviously not unique in that way. But, I think it’s a much easier thing to give lip service to than to do and I genuinely work at trying to achieve this as best I can.

   (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Liao)
(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Liao)

SFF:  You’ve made a number of short films, including ‘What You Eat’ and ‘CEO’. Where do you get your ideas to make such films as these?

JL:  WHAT YOU EAT was based on a short story by a writer named Ben Ehrenreich, so credit for that idea is entirely his.  CEO was inspired by the financial meltdown that resulted from the subprime mortgage crisis stateside, and was basically a reaction to reading about bankers complicit in the system that saw themselves as the victims.  Inspiration can come from anywhere, and if I happen upon a general concept I’m excited about, I’ll work on distilling it down to what I hope is an interesting story that can be done justice in the short film form.

SFF:  What challenges do you face as a film maker when producing a short film?

JL: I think the grand challenge for every filmmaker is to get the best possible version of what they are trying to achieve in the can, making all the decisions that have to be made and bringing everyone together around the same goal, while dealing with the very practical limitations of the filmmaking process: time, money, scheduling, weather, you name it.

SFF:  In your opinion, what draws people to watch short films?

JL:  A cool concept, an intriguing story, a performer or filmmaker that they like, a recommendation from a friend or trusted curator, an arresting still photo, the promise of any other element of the film that will be worth their time.

SFF:  Do you think short film viewership in Canada will grow in the future?

JL:  Yes.  Even with the explosion of short-form content on the internet, I think there are still more opportunities to showcase and promote short films in ways that are compelling to audience.  I’m in favour of the trend of festivals showcasing some of their programmed shorts online, for one.  The growth of websites and blogs that cover and curate short films also seem to me to be an important part of building a more engaged short film audience.

SFF:  Do you have any advice for any up-and-coming short film makers in Canada?

JL:  Work hard, have fun, and respect the craft and your craftspeople.  We’re fortunate in Canada to have a number of institutions that provide funding for short films, but they are of course extremely competitive.  So if you’re pursuing this type of funding, read the guidelines carefully and use your application as an opportunity to really articulate (for them and for yourself) why you want to make this movie and how you’re going to do it.  It could be helpful in keeping yourself personally excited and focused on what you need to accomplish, and convincing the decision-makers to put you on that shortlist.

 

We wish Jennifer all the best of luck in her current and future projects. Plans are in the works to screen ‘The End Of Days At Godfrey Global Inventory’ next year at film festivals before its formal release. For more information, please go to and ‘Like’ the film’s Facebook page and check out the webpage at:

www.facebook.com/GodfreyGlobal

www.godfreyglobal.com

For more on Jennifer’s work, visit her webpage www.jenniferliao.com and while you’re at it, give her a follow on Twitter @averagejenn