Hollywood’s growing appetite for talented, mid-career Canadian directors is a noticeable thread running through this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, but a new wave of promising up-and-comers have also made a splash.
With the experience of several short films under their belts, these emerging movie-makers have released productions that showcase striking performances, atypical perspectives and accessible, appealing stories.
The talented young directors behind four standouts from the TIFF13 lineup shared their experiences about making their first feature-length films during a Telefilm Canada session at the festival.
Check out Canada's next wave of filmmakers to watch and look for their debuts to hit a cinema near you.
Rhymes for Young Ghouls
Director: Jeff Barnaby
Premise: A creative aboriginal teen (Kawennahere Devery Jacobs), who reigns as head of her own drug crew, sees her world turned upside-down by the prison release of her father (Glen Gould) and the attention of the reserve’s corrupt and sadistic Indian agent (Mark Krupa).
From script to screen: "[In Rhymes for Young Ghouls], there's some elements of action there ... a bit of a thriller, kind of a heist movie, kind of a horror movie. For our movie, that was an attempt to make the movie more watchable and successful to people who want to drop $20, $10 to watch a film. Compliments don't pay the bills. We need to make money."
"It's something we all have to deal with as filmmakers: to put asses in seats. That's something I deliberately thought of when I was sitting down to write the film — to make it as user-friendly as possible."
What it takes: "I take on a lot of the creative responsibility, myself, in that I write, direct, edit and do the music for my movies. This is true of all my shorts and it's true of this feature too. We're able to defer a lot of that money back into the production…
"You have to have the stomach for it, you have to be a little bit crazy. You have to have a motor that doesn't stop. You get kicked in the face, kicked in the balls and dust yourself off — thank you sir, can I have more? — and doing that until the film's done. It's not that hard. It's a labour of love and you just need to have the backbone, the stomach and the wherewithal to power through."
The creative process: "You don't have time to sit around and wait for inspiration to strike. You have to sit down and start working.… As a creative person, as a person who has his well-being wrapped up in creating things, it's something you constantly need to do. It's not something you wait around for. You don't wait for lightning to strike so you can catch it in a bottle. You put a key on a kite, you know what I mean, and you make sure you get struck by lightning. You just keep moving forward."
All the Wrong Reasons
Director: Gia Milani
Premise: A woman’s struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (Karine Vanasse) distances her from her ambitious husband (the late Cory Monteith), the manager of the big-box department store at which they both work. They each become drawn to others in the staff, including a free-spirited cashier (Emily Hampshire) and new security guard (Kevin Zegers), in this ensemble drama.
From script to screen: "It was four years from starting to write it to actually shooting.… It went through several drafts and a lot of hard work to get funding."
"It actually started off completely different. I think I could shoot the original draft and it wouldn't be the same."
What it takes: "We very strategically went after Telefilm and did everything we needed to do. Jumped through every hoop we needed to…. Even though my budget level was much bigger, it's still the same thing: we didn't have enough money, I edited in my basement. I'm still there. I didn't have an assistant on my set. I barely ate the whole time. It took me a year to finish because it's hard to cobble together money — it was 12 funding sources that we used — and it took five years to get from when I started to write it to right now. It was a long process. I think the best thing you can do as a filmmaker is be tenacious and believe in your project and just keep going."
The creative process: "I get a lot of my inspiration from things that are absurd, bizarre situations that are just really strange and unbelievable. I find reality more weird than anything I could write. I get a lot of inspiration from sitting in crowds. I love listening to snippets of conversation. You never know where they started."
Directors: Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver
Premise: In this loopy and surreal Flash-animated feature by a pair of established visual artists, two friends hitchhike across Canada and encounter a host of eccentric, bizarre, menacing and memorable characters along the way. Based on a trip co-directors Ehman and Scriver actually took, the pair (and friends) created the animation and provide the voices, screenplay, design, editing and sound.
From script to screen: "We didn't write anything actually. It's all true.… [The] style isn't really a choice. It's just natural expression." (Ehman)
What it takes: "Our trick was that we took eight years to make it ... promoted it during those eight years, got people excited." (Scriver)
The creative process: "The inspiration when you're in the process of making something is to find a new way or a true way to convey your idea. When you place an object into the medium of a movie, it's kind of like anything is possible — that's the inspiration." (Ehman)
Directors: Derek Lee and Clif Prowse
Premise: Two friends (Derek Lee and Clif Prowse) set out to travel the world and share their experiences via video blog, but the trip takes a dark turn when one is infected with a mysterious ailment and undergoes a supernatural transformation.
From script to screen: "One of the things that working in the documentary style did for us was that we could keep our crew extremely small. That meant we could afford to do stuff like …fly to Europe to shoot, because a lot of times we had just seven people or 10 people, sometimes just four. That meant we could actually bring out stunt guys for three days and do three days worth of stunts, but very minimally. A lot of those stunts, it was like a pulley with two guys jumping up and down on one side while pulling another guy over a car. And our editor/boom operator/prop master — who was all the same guy — was behind the car pulling the guy backward. It was a very unique experience." (Prowse)
What it takes: "We actually got to have a meeting and talk to [Telefilm] first before making our application. I think it's probably always good when you're putting your application in a stack with a bunch of other people, if you can, talk to them ahead of time. They put a name to a face and they can get a little bit more behind what you have in your application." (Prowse)
The creative process: "Usually [vampire movies exist as]
a very stylized medium. You're very conscious of the artifice of a movie. We were thinking if we did something very fantastical like vampires but throw it in an ultra-realistic light — to try to ground it in biology and addiction models and disease, all that kind of stuff — we thought that could be really exciting to do and hopefully it's a fresh take."
"I just keep asking myself questions: 'What if she wore a red dress? Well, if she wore a red dress, this would happen'…. Just sort of asking questions and seeing where the questions will take you — it doesn't feel like you have a definitive answer, but it opens your mind so you can explore." (Prowse)
The Toronto International Film Festival continues through Sunday.