Nova Scotia

Star Wars: The Force Awakens work was 'dream come true' for Nova Scotia artist

A Nova Scotia man living in a country far, far away says having a hand in the biggest movie in the galaxy "was an absolute dream come true."

'I didn't really believe that it was happening,' says Kurt van der Basch

Kurt van der Basch is a self-described army brat from Nova Scotia who was one of the storyboard artists on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. (Photo by Miloslav Student)

A Nova Scotia man living in a country far, far away says having a hand in the biggest movie in the galaxy "was an absolute dream come true."

Kurt van der Basch is a storyboard artist who works out of Prague. One of his recent jobs was on a little movie you may have heard about — Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The self-described "army brat" — who went to Cole Harbour District High School and then Acadia University — says ending up in the Czech Republic was "absolutely random."

"I did music at Acadia and then I decided I wanted to be a painter and see a bit of Europe," he said.

"As soon as I got to Prague I got a job in a movie and that [led to] another one. And after so many years, I'm still here."

For confidentiality reasons, van der Basch can't get talk about the specifics of working on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but he said it "was an absolute dream come true."

"I was a huge Star Wars fan when I was a kid — just insane — so I didn't really believe that it was happening," he said.

J.J. Abrams made a movie 'for the fans' 

A storyboard artist works with producers and directors to help them visualize stories and sketches, usually before production begins.

"The director explains how the story will look and the storyboard artist makes a little drawing of it. Every time there's a cut, you make a new little drawing.… And so it winds up looking like a comic book," said van der Basch.

"You could draw anywhere from 40 to 50 little frames per day. I mean, sometimes even more." 

Van der Basch said working on The Force Awakens was a "totally unforgettable" experience. 

"It was such a big deal and you're so invested in it, you really wanted to do your best — your absolutely best work," he said.

"You think you're never going to get a chance to do this movie again, whatever little part you have on it."

For van der Basch, working on the latest instalment in the Star Wars franchise is a twice in a lifetime experience. He also had a hand storyboarding one of the upcoming sequels.

"It's more than anyone could ask," he said.

He saw The Force Awakens with about a dozen of his family members in Nova Scotia over the holidays.

"I think J.J. [Abrams] is amazing. He had a really brilliant concept for it and everybody was on board to make it perfect. As he said so many times in interviews, he wanted to make this film for the fans," said van der Basch.

"He has reverence for the material and it shows." 

Getting his start

Van der Basch started out as an assistant in an art department working on a movie, "basically making photocopies and tea."

"I met a couple of storyboard artists on different movies and I thought, 'This is an interesting job.' Because you have to be able to draw fast and that was something I was good at."

Then his break came.

Liev Schreiber, who has received multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his work on the Showtime drama Ray Donovan, was directing his first film, Everything is Illuminated.

"I was brought in for an interview and I said, 'I've never done this before,' and he said, 'Well, I've never done this before, so maybe we can do it together.'"

"He gave me my first chance, so that was really great."

Van der Basch said although working on Star Wars: The Force Awakens was an incredible experience, one of his favourite movies — among the ones he's been involved in — is the cerebral science fiction film Cloud Atlas, co-directed by the Wachowskis and German film director Tom Tykwer.

"It was incredible, especially because it wasn't a big studio picture, so you felt like everyone was doing everything they could to make it happen and I love the result," he said.