Tag Archives: Ottawa

Monster Pool: Seven Deadly Sins

Was it really two years ago that Jay and I furiously drove back from New Hampshire to Ottawa to see the first Monster Pool Horror Anthology?  Apparently so.  As this site evidences, we have seen a truckload of movies since then, but very few of those have been as gory as the latest Monster Pool entry, titled Seven Deadly Sins (and even fewer have been as Ottawa-centric, considering this effort comes from a team of local filmmakers).

Monster Pool: Seven Deadly Sins wastes no time in getting to the gore.  Like, insides falling out kind of gore, and skinless body in a bathtub kind of gore, and cannibal eating dinner kind of gore.  And while these effects don’t have the gloss on them that a $200 million budget can provide, the fact they are still convincingly disgusting is a great credit to these talented filmmakers.  This is a well-polished effort that fits together well, and builds on the previous two Monster Pool entries (all three of which are available online through http://monsterpool.ca/ – and the first two films can be viewed for free!).

All these filmmakers put their talent on display and the result is a polished and cohesive product.  The quality of the effects was a highlight for me, as they were consistently good throughout each of the seven short films plus the “wrapper” story that linked them loosely together.  The acting was less consistent than the effects, though I’m not even sure that is necessarily a criticism (overacting is arguably a staple of the horror genre).

All in all, Monster Pool: Seven Deadly Sins ended up being an excellent and, um, festive way to spend my Halloween after handing out candy to 191 kids (Jay had to work so I manned the door by myself!).  My only regret is not saving more candy for myself.

 

 

 

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Short Films Galore!

Candy Skin: Ottawa’s own Kyle Martellacci has a short film that preys on our fear of the unknown. The protagonist, David, wakes up to find himself alone in a deserted world. Visibly alone at least  – something unseen is hunting him, but finding out may be more than he can handle. Watch the trailer here.

Lookouts: a team of young woodland scouts are training in order to defeat a mythical, Opening_Run_Master_2500_v2.jpgdangerous beast called a basilisk. Pehn depends on the guidance of his mentor and the memories of his mother to give him the courage to confront the monster he can scarcely define, let alone identify. Shot in lush coastal California forest, Lookouts is about as beautiful and accomplished a short film as I have ever seen and the acting is superb. It uses practical effects and real locations to elevate this period fantasy based on Penny Arcade’s Lookouts to something truly unique and special. Director David Bousquet has tapped into real magic, and you can share in it by watching the film here. You’re welcome. 😉

Pigskin: a cheerleader’s romance with a football player leads to a walking-nightmare manifestation of her body dismorphia. This body-horror short is stunningly shot, with beautiful, throwback cinematography that will hearken 80s nostalgia while communicating a present-day message about body consciousness, brought to you by the creative team of director\writer Jake Hammond and cinematographer\writer Nicola Newton.

Night of the Slasher: from director Shant Hamassian, this 11 minute short depicts a young girl determined to commit all the usual “horror movie sins” like drinking and dancing half naked in order to attract a serial killer. Why do such a thing? Well, that scar on her neck and the glint of revenge in her eye might serve as clues. Excellently executed and impressively shot in one take, Hamassian wants us to rethink the slasher genre and hopes to turn this short into a full-length, high-profile cinematic piece. You can watch it here, and see for yourself:

Lest We Forget

November 11th is Canada’s national day of remembrance, and is a memorial day observed by many Commonwealth nations to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty. It marks the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the end to hostilities of the first world war (in 1918). At 11am we stop, as a country, whether at work, play, or school, for two minutes of silence, just a small slice of our lives for such a large sacrifice of theirs.

Lest-We-ForgetWe wear red poppies, the flowers that bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of WWI (commemorated in the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian John McCrae), that have come to symbolize the blood spilled during war. They are worn as an emblem of peace – so that we don’t forget, so that no more blood is spilled. The poppy campaign actively supports retired veterans and their families.

Our remembrance ceremonies happen right here, since we live in our Nation’s capital city, Ottawa, at the National War Memorial. An honour guard – unarmed soldiers – stand by the War Memorial, and the tomb of the unknown soldier year round as a tribute to their fallen brothers and sisters. Last year Sean, Matt and I attended the ceremonies just as our city was still 4829_duck_boards_1020mourning the attack on Parliament that had occurred just a few weeks before and resulted in the death of one of the honour guard right on that very spot. Thousands of Canadians came to watch the solemn parade of veterans march in, the road being opened for the first time since the attack. The city was still a little shaky, but there is something so dignified and uplifting about those veterans and their determined entrance. The pack dwindles every year; many who remain have to be supported by others, or rolled in wheelchairs, but their presence is invaluable for young Canadians who have never known their country at war. At the close of the ceremony, we leave our poppies on the tomb of the unknown soldier and we file out to the sounds of the bells day-inphotos11rb1tolling at the Parliamentary peace tower (a 53-bell carillon, in fact). The peace tower was erected after Parliament burned down in 1916 as a tribute to Canadians who gave their lives to the great war. The memorial chamber up top is a vaulted room with stained glass windows illustrating our war record, and brass plates made from spent shell casings found on battlefields inlaid into the floor. There’s also a book of remembrance containing the names of all Canadians who gave their lives in service of their country. Every day a page is turned to reveal more names. Sean and Matt both have family members listed in that book; every year their families will receive notification of which day those names will be seen publicly.

Canada is a small country that fights hard for what it believes to be right. 110 000 lives were lost 141106_8i2mz_rci-m-duckboards_sn635between the two world wars (619K served and 65k died in WWI alone when we had a population of less than 8 million), but Canadians played invaluable roles overseas, notably in battles at Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele during WWI, and Dieppe and Normandy during WW2. We are often forgotten in blockbuster war movies, but not by the people who benefitted. All these years later, a Canadian travelling in France will always be greeted warmly.

Passchendaele is “our” war movie, likely overlooked by anyone outside our borders, written and directed by Canadian Paul Gross. Gross’s grandfather was a veteran of the first world war, and he incorporates a lot of personal touches into the script, including his grandfather’s deepest secret and greatest regret: having bayoneted a young enemy soldier in the forehead. His imagesCA82C4IAgrandfather was still muttering for forgiveness on his deathbed. It’s crippling to think not just about all the young men who died over there (and whose bodies remained over there), but think of those who came back, having done their duty, but paid a very high emotional price.

The film is no technical achievement. Gross pays his respect by sticking to historical fact within the constraints of a Canadian budget. It can’t have been easy to balance those things, and the unevenness shows through. But I’m going to forgive the flaws because when a man goes awol  because he can’t cope with the fact that he’s received a2717_1 medal for having bayoneted a kid, it’s kind of a powerful thing. And because our very real war contributions have tended to be forgotten by film, this is a story that needed to be told, and deserves to be seen. I wish it was better but I’m glad, at least, that it exists.

Passchendaele (now called Passendale) is only 12 km away from Boezinge, where Canadian war physician John McCrae wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields”. Lt.Col. McCrae died of pneumonia in 1918 near Boulogne-sur-Mer, and lies buried in Wimereux. The battle at Passchendaele was for control of the ridges south and east of the Belgian city of Ypres, about T070412-IMG_83028km from a railway junction vital to the Germans’ supply system. The allies fought the Germans but were unable to clinch because of unusually wet conditions (the mud was a defining characteristic), the onset of winter, plus the diversion of British and French resources to Italy. The campaign ended when the Canadian Corps arrived and captured Passchendaele with a series of well-executed attacks. The Canadian Corps is commemorated with a memorial in a small, keyhole-shaped area of land on the fringe of Passendale village, aptly dubbed ‘Canadalaan.’ The park is lined with maple trees.

Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for my freedom.

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Interview with Horror Makeup FX artist Ashley Robinson

Little Linda Blair, tiny star of The Exorcist, didn’t roll up to the set in her mom’s station wagon, fresh from a spelling test and a bologna sandwich, looking all demonically possessed. Someone had to paint her that way. Doing makeup special effects is someone’s job.

Meet Ashley Robinson, an emerging Canadian freelance SFX artist and a filmmaker in her own right. You might expect that someone who creates stab wounds all day would be a little bit twisted – and you’d be right. Matt and I had the chance recently to not only sit down with Ashley but to undergo “the process” and it turns out that not only is Ms. Robinson incredibly interesting, self-taught, and artistic, she’s funny as hell too.

Jay: So how did you get into this line of work?

FX1Ashley: I started by working with my brother (Andrew JD Robinson, founder of WORKOBEY Films). I’ve been his go-to makeup effects consultant for whatever project he is working on for some time now. It’s only recently I have decided to dabble more into the gore FX and showcase my creations on social media. [You can find her on Instagram @ash_fx] At the moment I’m working exclusively for his production as well as whatever project I have up my sleeve, but am open to expanding in the future if the timing is good and the right project comes along.

Jay: What kind of work is available for you in Ottawa?

Ashley: Indie films, Halloween events, building a photographer’s portfolio, etc. are all different opportunities for an FX artist. Ventures like that can exist anywhere; you just might have to dig a little deeper in some areas.

Jay: Were you a creepy kid? What I mean is – did you make your dolls look like monsters? Give your friends gruesome makeovers? Look at books of accident photos?

Ashley: If filming a feature-length called “Slaughterhouse” with my Barbie dolls (blood pumps and all) is considered strange…then yes.

Jay: What’s more fun – to make someone look beautiful or hideous?FX2

I think there is something beautiful about transforming someone once attractive into what we view as repulsive or ugly. It requires a type of vulnerability to welcome others’ disgust.

Jay: What kind of reference materials do you use for inspiration?

Ashley: Depending on the type of wound that I am interested in creating, I will research real images. This can be really gut-wrenching. Nothing beats the real thing though. Accuracy is the force behind a positive (aka disgusted) reaction.

Jay: Obviously there’s some artistry involved in the process as well. We know you write and direct films. Do you do other kinds of art ?

Ashley: I was definitely that quiet, weird, artistic girl in high school that doodled on every binder. Drawing, painting and writing have always been things I enjoyed. So I guess naturally the next step was disfigurement?

FX4Jay: What are some of your favorite makeup effects that you’ve created?

Ashley: One of my first attempts would have to be a favourite. It was cuts across the fingers using my homemade molding wax (which can be a pain to make yourself). I was proud I was able to blend it the way I did and thought it came out well for my first time.

Jay: Do you go all out for Halloween or is that too much like work for you?

Ashley: My go-to costume as a kid was always a witch- every single year. Surprisingly I haven’t gone all out for Halloween since then. But why mess with a classic?

Jay: What movie do you wish you could have worked on?

Ashley: I would have loved to been a part of ‘Excision’- in any way shape or form. The visual dream sequences, the blood…oh the blood. I just wish I had beaten them to it!

Jay: Were you a fan of horror first, or did that interest come as you started with the FX?

Ashley: I have lived and breathed horror since I was about 10 years old. My brother and I would somehow get away with renting stacks of VHS horror movies from a local video store down the street. Watching horror movies literally consumed the majority of my life growing up and still does to this day.

Jay: What actors or directors would you most like to work with?

Ashley: Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino. They can make anyone look fucking cool.

Jay: In such a CGI-heavy time in the movie industry, do makeup effects still have a place?FX6

Ashley: When you look back at the 70’s and 80’s makeup FX, it is mesmerizing how artists, with their own hands and pure talent could create something so amazing. I believe they will always have a place in a true horror fan’s heart, but industry wise, I’m not so sure anymore. It’s a rat race to make the quickest dollar as opposed to creating as a fan for the fans. Animatronics are the shit. Stop Motion is the shit. CGI is just crap.

Jay: Does what you do ever affect you emotionally? Do you get nightmares?

Ashley: Gore FX is oddly therapeutic to me. If I’m having a stressful day at my full-time job for instance, I get excited with the thought of coming home and putting boils on my face…It’s like any hobby, it’s a great and fun distraction.

FX3Jay: What about this work do you think would surprise most audiences?

Ashley: Constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to throw your own spin on standard wounds can be challenging. In the end, a cut is a cut…but it’s a matter of how can I make this one stand out from the hundreds of others?

Jay: Is there any movie character or effect that you would have done differently? 

Ashley: Twilight. I think that says it all.

If you think Ashley’s work is pretty clever, wait till you see what she does with our FACES.

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The Monster Pool Horror Anthology

On Sunday Sean and I were wrapping up our coverage of the very enjoyable New Hampshire Film Festival, which means we were, you know, in New Hampshire. Which is about 700km and a border crossing away from home. But we had something we were anxious to cover back in Ottawa later that same day, so we drove non-stop (and when I say non-stop, I may or may not be glossing over a stop in Vermont at the Ben & Jerry’s factory) and made it to Ottawa’s Mayfair theatre with mere minutes to spare to see the anthology of horror films presented by Andrew JD Robinson and Vincent Valentino.

11264802_657555234375835_5559594398628765954_nMonster Pool rules: your 6-minutes max film must contain 1. a cursed skeleton key that “causes” the horror and 2. a randomly assigned monster or horror film trope – like zombies, or a cabin in the woods. Robinson & Valentino had an exhaustive job ahead of themselves, soliciting entries and cobbling the whole thing together into a 2 hour marathon of local talent, and they premiered the thing to a packed house and enthusiastic crowd. The Mayfair atmosphere was pierced with screams and roared with laughter. The great outcome: it was a non-competitive showcase, and it was obvious that everyone had a great time just supporting each other.

Unfortunately, there being 20 films on hand, I don’t have the space to review them all, so instead I’ll offer my heartfelt congratulations to all the filmmakers, and I’ll focus on just a few of the highlights.

First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about an 11-year-old director and movie star called Daniel Elston. He recruited friends and family for his impressive entry, which featured droves of zombie pigs and lots of kung-fu and fart noises. Any of you who were once little boys are probably groaning with envy right now. He was the only kid entrant, and I found it very moving to think about how hard he, and his family (and I’m thinking his mom) must have worked to put this piece together. What a wonderful thing to receive this kind of encouragement at a young age.

Pseudocoma, directed by Adrian Matthews & G. John Leslie, is about a girl who finds a strange key in a time capsule at her high school reunion, and then goes home craving blood (and worse), to majorly creep out her roommate, and me. I was particularly drawn to the excellent score, which I see is credited to Marcus Fong.

Pandora’s Box, by Vincent Valentino, about a victim getting her revenge, was maybe the blood-lustiest showing of the night. It had awesome effects, blood galore, and is it just me or did I see some vertebrae?

Gifted, directed by James Campbell & Nick Wilson, is about a wife’s birthday gift to her husband of an antique robot to add to his odd collection. But when his daughter uses a mysterious key to fix it up, the robot turns hostile. In this one I noticed the impressively gruesome sound design (Allen Roulston’s doing, I presume?).

Vlog #79 was an undeniable crowd-pleaser with a strong, punchy script that accomplished a lot in under 6 minutes. With Luke Gabriel at the helm, it confidently blended horror and comedy and maximized its effect. A charismatic Youtube star has a life-changing experience in the woods one day, and the effects are…other-worldly?

It’s actually really exciting to see so much local talent congregating together. One film, Engineers, by Tyler Williams, had great use of lighting and set design. One Small Step for Man, One Giant LEPUS for Mankind by Andrew Robinson was a fan-favourite work of mixed media shock & appall, while also garnering laughs between buckets of blood. The Golden Dawn had an excellent script. Marcello Varanda’s Room 666, was the sole animated contribution and managed to achieve quite a bit considering the constraints. Allen Roulston’s Very Bad Dreams had some really cool camera work, while Patrick Murray’s Scapegoat was visually stunning. Not a bad film in the bunch.

Thanks for having me along, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

 

 

 

Capital Pop Up Cinema Presents…

We are very fortunate to live in the beautiful capital city of our country, and to have constant opportunity to do fun and exciting things. The good folks at Capital Pop Up Cinema have brought us a whole season of random, outdoor movie screenings, but this summer being packed full of travel and adventure, we only caught the last couple of offerings.

Last week, in the heart of the bustling Byward Market, hundreds of people brought lawn chairs, cozy blankets and hot chocolate to brave the cool temps for a viewing of The Nightmare Before Christmas. There were more than a few Jack Skellingtons in attendance, and the audience was in a festive and excitable mood as the sun set and the Capital Pop Up’s inflatable screen came to life. The market is the heart of our fair city, choc-full of restaurants, retailers, art galleries, night clubs, and stands selling beaver tails. Not to mention the extra-wide, pedestrian-friendly streets to accomodate the fabulous, year-round outdoor farmer’s markets that sell seasonal produce, everything from cranberries and parsnips to eggs and goat’s milk ice cream – not forgetting our world-maple syrup, of course! So imagine, if you will, this vivacious part of town, the constant stream of happy and satiated people, the occasional tour bus, the frenquent brides posing for photos, the sidewalk chalk artists, the parents pushing ginormous strollers, vendors with their gerbera daisies, and in the middle of it all, an impromptu outdoor cinema! I thought it might be distracting but actually it was good fun, and there were plenty of passerby (and maybe a homeless guy or two) who stopped to appreciate the movie and the intoxicating scent of popcorn in the air.

The Nightmare Before Christmas: a visually arresting work of stop-motion animation that blew everyone’s socks off in 1993, and legions of fans still know every musical number by heart (I can attest to that, having unintentionally sat beside some die-hards). Henry Selick directed but the film is popularly known to be Tim Burton’s, who wrote and produced the film but was simply too busy to direct. The film is about Jack Skellington, a denizen of Halloweentown who accidentally follows a portal to Christmastown, and decides that others back home should be able to celebrate this new and wonderful holiday as well – to darkly comic results. Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara, and PeeWee Herman all contribute voice work.

The week before, Capital Pop Up Cinema screened The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a 1920 German silent horror film that was brought to life with live musicians. It played to a smaller but enthusiastic crowd in the parking lot of Das Lokal, a kitchen and bar at 190 Dalhousie where chef Robert Fuchs serves up delicious European fare with a German twist. The charcuterie and das schnitzel are particularly recommended, and the cocktailed called Zugspitze (vodka, elderflower liqueur, cranberry juice) is an inspired choice from the bar.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janotwitz and Carl Mayer, it’s considered to be not only the quintessential work of German expressionist film, but also among the first true horror films. It tells the tale of an insane hypnotist (wide-eyed Werner Krauss) who uses a sleepwalker (Conrad Viedt) to commit murder. The screen writers, both pacificts, wrote the story in the wake of WW1, showing a people’s need for brutal and irrational authority; Dr. Caligari represents the German war government, and Cesare is symbolic of the common man conditioned, like soldiers, to kill. Some say the movie reflects Germany’s particular need of a tyrant, but that seems facile in the shadow of Hitler. The film’s visual style is graphic and jarring, with deliberate distortion to give the impression of insanity and instability. Honestly, the art work is to die for and you could honestly treat this film as a trip to a museum and that alone will ensure your rapt entertainment. This film has a huge legacy that I am ill-equipped to discuss at length, but lucky for me I’ve come across a really great post by fellow blogger David at Movie Morlocks that will do the dirty work for me.

 

 

Screaming Bloody Murder

scream

 

The Wilhelm scream is, as you may know, a stock sound effect that’s been used in hundreds of movies, beginning in 1951 in the film Distant Drums when a soldier is bitten and then dragged underwater by an alligator. It is likely voiced by Sheb Wooley (best known for his one-hit wonder “The Purple People Eater”) and named after Private Wilhelm, a character in the 1953 western The Charge at Feather River who gets shot with an arrow (but this was already the 3rd movie to use the effect).

The Wilhelm was re-discovered by sound designer Ben Burtt (it was a reel labeled unforgettably as “Man being eaten by alligator”), who incorporated it into a little film he was working on called Star Wars. And then he kept on throwing it into all kinds of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg productions over the next decade until other sound designers picked it up and made it a tradition, or almost an in-joke among the industry. In fact when it appears in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, it’s when a man is being eaten by an alligator. In-joke on an in-joke? Today it’s used religiously by Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, and Tim Burton. You can hear it in Titanic, Inglorious Basterds, Spiderman, Planet of the Apes, Despicable Me, Sin City, and a hundred more.

Lesser known is the Howie scream, which made its debut in the 1980 film The Ninth Configuration but got its name from Howie Long’s death scene in the movie Broken Arrow. Its common labels Gut-wrenching scream, and Fall into distance give you some idea of how it’s popularly used.

Some of my favourite screams on film:

Janet Leigh in Psycho. Unforgettable.

Susan Backlinie in the opening sequence of Jaws. It’s gurgly and gasping and totally desperate.

Ronald Lacey in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There are lots of good Nazi screams in this movie, but Lacey’s final scream is classic. The burble at the end as he’s melting? Ooof. Brutal.

Margaret Hamilton as the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. I don’t know if it’s a scream so much as a shriek but it pierces the ear unlike any other before or since.

Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Remember his last pod scream? Of course you do. Fuck.

Shelley Duvall in The Shining. That poor woman. Her scream is so visceral you might be led to believe she didn’t quite trust Jack Nicholson with that ax.

fay-wray-king-kong-1933Fay Wray is the scream queen for sure throughout the entirety of King Kong. Just watch her facial contortions and body language as she gives the alarm over and over again.

Now I’m not sure that you’re the equal of Fay Wray, but if you’re anywhere close, now’s your chance to prove it.

Andrew J.D. Robinson is a powerhouse director, producer, and all-round film-industry juggernaut to the city of Ottawa, and one of his many current projects is a Scream Queen contest as part of his 15 Seconds of Horror Film Challenge.

He’s looking for entries from one and all, so if you have a camera and a vocal cord (or two), you’re good to go. All you have to do is unleash your inner murder victim. One loud, terrorized, blood-curling scream, and you’re done. Andrew’s assembling them all into what I can only imagine will be the most alarming montage in movie history.

So do your best – or your worst – and send them to Andrew at workobeyfilms @ gmail.com by October 21st and be sure to include any social media of yours you’d like to be linked to. And then please god send it to us. Post them right here in the comments.

Supporting Actors

Today we’re interviewing two Ottawa-area actors to get a little insight into what it’s like to dip your toes into the Ottawa film industry. They’re both fresh faces on the scene and have their own perspectives on what it’s like to shill for work around these parts.

Meet “Annie”, a 36 year old aspiring actor. She’s just recently enrolled in Acting for TV & Film – Level 1 at The Acting Company and has been putting in time at The Actor’s Gym. Annie is finding the courage to pursue a dream she’s long had, and is excited about learning as much about her new craft as possible.

 

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Photo Credit: Dalene Gallo, Picture It Studio

Don Lee considers himself to be a late bloomer as far as acting is concerned, having stepped on a stage for the first time since elementary school as recently as 2008. It was a one-line walk-on part in an amateur production of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes (for the Mississippi Mudds in Carleton Place), but he was hooked. 

 

Annie’s answers will look like plain old text while Don’s will be distinguished by Italics. I am, obviously, the bold one. 🙂

What is the audition process like for you?

Annie: To date I have only submitted responses to casting calls via video audition. After indicating my interest to audition, I would receive the sides. Prior to recording and submitting my audition, I would take the time necessary to practice and experience the lines in various ways.

Don: It’s not too stressful and I think the worst part is not getting any significant direction to understand fully what is wanted in the role. However, I read a quote recently from a big-name star (so big that I’ve forgotten his name!) and I try to keep his advice in mind: don’t go in with a mindset of “I hope I get the part.” Go in knowing that the Director and Producer have a problem: they have to find the right person to fill the role, and YOU are that right person!

What unique ways have you used to get noticed?

Annie: To start out I started posting questions in online forums, including Facebook. I got a lot of positive feedback following expressing my desire to get into acting. I have also taken head shots and posted them in public forums online. In doing this, I made a connection with a local filmmaker/director/videographer that helped me with my first cold read as well as recorded my first response to an audition.

Don: I have joined all the relevant Facebook pages that I’ve found, established relationships by making comments, etc. I’m also quite willing to do freebies for small independents in order to meet and be seen by more people and spread my name around as much as possible. I also think the basics of all working relationships are important: show up on time, do what you’re told, keep quiet on set, etc.

I had no concept of how much Facebook was playing a role in getting people noticed, and I hadn’t considered, but clearly should have, how the internet is helping casting producers cast a wider net in terms of seeing people for auditions from all over the world.

How do you prepare for a role?

Don:  I try not to make too many assumptions about how to portray my character until I learn what the Director wants; there seems little point in getting a certain persona down pat and then finding out that the Director wants a totally different interpretation. I guess my main goal is to get the lines flowing smoothly and then try to follow direction.

Do you think it’s more important to have brilliant writing or strong direction, and why?

Annie: I think that both are equally important and that they complement one another. Strong writing is important as it enables the actor to envision what the writer’s idea of the character is. It provides context for the development and the actor’s presentation of the character. Strong direction is important because it sets the parameters, the boundaries for the director’s vision of the character, in which the actor has the freedom of creativity to operate within.

Don: Both are important of course, and there are undoubtedly directors who can make an acceptable product from the worst script. However, the old saying is that you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, and there’s also the biblical thing about a house built on a foundation of sand. Thus I have to say the writing is the more important.

It does seem to me that you could give the same script to two directors, and one end product might be vastly better than the other, depending on the talent of the directors. But no director can save a film if the story’s just not there. Unfortunately, I can think of a few movies of late that seem to agree with your hypothesis, Don. What’s the point of a great cast if the characters are underdeveloped? Or the point of breathtaking cinematography if the story is lacking? It seems like such a waste.

What, in your opinion, is the juiciest role you’ve seen in a movie?: I think that the scene from the movie Monster’s Ball where the characters played by Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton make love for the first time is the juiciest role that I have seen in a movie. In the context of the movie it was just so totally unexpected and incredibly raw. It was ultimately a moment that made history as it followed that Halle Berry became the first black woman to win an Oscar for best actress for the role she played.

Don: Boy, that’s a tough one, especially at my advanced age and remembering movies that go back to the 50s! The first one that comes to mind is Lee Marvin in Cat Balou, and also in The Dirty Dozen. And I can’t dismiss images of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones!

Is it more fun to play the hero or the villain, and why?

Annie: I think that it would be more fun to play the villain. For me, I try to be the best person that I can be, whether it’s for my family, my friends, my colleagues etc. As a society we are expected to follow certain moral codes and standards and of course the law! I think that playing the villain would be much more fun as it allows the actor to explore a totally different realities and mindsets that they may not otherwise have a chance to experience.

Don: I have no strong feelings either way, and in any case I have no relevant movie experience. I have done a number of live dinner-theatre murder-mysteries with the Mudds and I seem always to play the villain. I do enjoy that role, especially when the plot is such that you are not revealed as being the villain until very near the end.

What movies or theatre productions made you fall in love with acting?

Annie: The movies that made me fall in love with acting include The Color Purple, Not Without My Daughter, and Pretty Woman. The one that stands out the most for me out of the three would have to be is Not Without My Daughter. I could not have been more than twelve the first time that I saw that movie and I still remember, as if it were yesterday, how completely moved I felt by the heroism and the emotion that was depicted throughout that movie. It was the first time that I had seen anything like it.

Don: I don’t think it happened that way for me, and again, considering my age I had seen a hell of a lot of movies and plays before giving any serious thought to doing any such thing myself. Two one-man shows come to mind though: Henry Fonda as Clarence Darrow and Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain.

Acting seems to necessarily involve a certain amount of rejection. How do you keep motivated?

Annie: Being as new as I am, all experiences, good and bad, including rejection, are opportunities to learn more about myself and the art. My desire to develop the skills as an actor as well to learn as much as I can about the craft are what motivate me to keep trying new things.

Don: I think the first thing is to remember that there IS a lot of rejection, and even the biggest stars have experienced it at some point; it’s an integral part of the process. Also, I try to remember the statement attributed to Thomas Edison when asked how he kept going with his attempt to invent the electric light bulb after failing literally thousands of times. His reply was that he hadn’t failed thousands of times; he had successfully discovered thousands of ways that wouldn’t work!!

In discussing one of your previous answers, Don, Matt mentioned that both Bill Murray and Chevy Chase had been considered for the part of Indiana Jones. It’s hard, maybe impossible, in retrospect, to see the role as theirs. And both went on to have highly successful careers – it just highlights the fact that the director will find ONE right person for the part (okay, maybe a second when the first drops out due to “scheduling conflicts” (cough-rehab-cough) but you get my drift). Tom Selleck, Jack Nicholson, Jeff Bridges, and Steve Martin were also considered, but it’s hard to picture any of them holding the ole bullwhip quite so convincingly.

Whose film career do you most admire, and why?

Annie: I would have to say that I admire Will Smith. This would have to be because he is so incredibly versatile. He began his career as a rapper, which led to his first TV role, on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Following that, he crossed over to movies and has been starring in blockbuster films in a variety of genres since.

Don: The first name to come to mind is Henry Fonda, and I guess the next would be Gregory Peck. To the best of my knowledge, both had long successful careers without a lot of the notoriety so common in the industry. Neither was super splashy, they simply gave highly credible performances in a quietly-competent way. Afterthought: also Meryl Streep.

What is the movie industry like in Ottawa?

Don: As an outsider moving in, I would say surprising! Until I got involved myself, I had no idea of the amount of on-going activity that exists here. To be sure it’s not Hollywood or even Toronto, but I think a lot of people would be surprised by the amount of movie activity that takes place here on a regular basis.

How do you, as an actor, define success?

Annie: As an aspiring actor, being successful would entail learning the art of acting and being able to embody virtues of the craft and perform either on stage or in front of a camera with competence and confidence.

Don: For me in my specific set of circumstances, success would be getting reasonably steady paying work as an actor. On further reflection, that would be astronomical success!

A big Asshole thank you to both Annie and Don for submitting themselves to our questions. If anyone’s got any questions for them or anything to add to the conversation (have any of you got any acting experience???), please feel free to let us know in the comments!

Where Talent Blooms

I recently had the good fortune to come across an interesting Kickstarter campaign (Kickstarter is a site for crowd funding – where people can pitch their bright ideas, and their projected budget, and you can choose to back them with your own hard-earned dollars, or not). The campaign was launched by a local film maker who already has a couple of well-received short films under her belt, and, having toured the festival circuit and left with awards, is eager to do her next film up right. And did I mention she’s only 16?

Matt, Sean and I are blown away by the obvious potential in her work. There’s a lot of insight and maturity that’s evident already, especially in a short entitled Gifts, and we’re so excited to see where she takes her work next. Kickstarter allows us to throw even just a couple of dollars her way and feel like we’re contributing to her vision. A long time ago, wealthy patrons would back artists with their support, encouragement, and financial aid, which allowed those artists to concentrate on their work without worrying about supporting themselves by other means. The Renaissance was famous for its patrons – the Medici family alone gave patronage to the Ninja Turtles among others (Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael – well, you get the picture). Today, we’re able to offer our support as a community (assuming none of you are from an elite political dynasty) and actually help foster the things we claim to support: young talent, creativity, and a strong female voice for the next generation that the movie industry so desperately needs. And isn’t it kind of cool to get in on the ground floor. I mean, we could be talking about the next Tarantino here, and wouldn’t you like to be able to say that you spotted her first? If you’re interested in contributing, every little bit helps, and her campaign can be found here. And without further ado, let’s hear from this talented film maker herself, Ms. Morgana McKenzie: director, editor, cinematographer, voice of tomorrow.

Ms. McKenzie took some time out of her busy schedule (she’s already in rehearsals for her upcoming film, Ellie) to answer some of our questions. In this particular interview we’ll be discussing a previous short film of hers called Gifts that you can watch by visiting this link. Ms. McKenzie made this film when she was 14 years old and garnered her tonnes of well-deserved awards, among them best thriller at CineYouth, best editing at ASK Film Festival, and best emerging female filmmaker at NFFTY (which also came with a scholarship to prodigy camp). You’ll be blown away by Gifts, and the rest of her catalogue is even more intriguing though they aren’t available for public viewing yet because they’re still making the festival rounds. You might want to use that link now to watch it before reading the interview because it does contain some spoilers.

Matt: Gifts is an engaging short film that features, among other things, a very well-executed murder scene that literally made me jump. Your POV approach kept the tension high as I was always a little afraid of what might be lurking just outside the character’s field of vision. What can you tell us about where the idea for this story came from? How do you go about building suspense with such a limited budget and non-professional actors?

Ms. McKenzie: I originally had the idea for two much more complicated shorts; one involving two worlds joined by water, and the other involving a POV sequence. These were too complex and not doable, so the idea came to mix the two shorts, making one. Writing and scrapping drafts ensued, and eventually I was left with GIFTS!

Suspense was important to me given that I didn’t have professional actors or equipment. I worked hard to do the best that I could with what I had for equipment, but I knew the suspense would be what would carry the story. I really tried to tackle that in the writing process, making sure that every bit of information being put out was for a reason and would ultimately move the story forward.

Matt: Most of us don’t take the time to commit to a two-hour movie without learning
a little something about it first. Either they’ve seen a preview or they’ve read a review or at least looked at the poster. Short films are unique in that it’s quite common to go into it with no idea what we’re in for. For me, this made witnessing an ambush within the first few seconds of Gifts
even more disarming. Are you eager for the chance to make feature-length films or are you enjoying the unique storytelling opportunities offered by short films?

Ms. McKenzie: I am definitely interested to make feature-length films! I think it would
interesting to explore a longer form of storytelling and be able to experiment with expanding some of my current ideas. At the same time, I enjoy making short films, and am not in any sort of hurry to make my first feature. I see a lot of youth filmmakers in a rush to make their first feature, and while I understand the worry of getting it out there, I would rather take my time exploring short form storytelling while I can. I’m more interested in building a portfolio of work I’m proud of, while planning out my ideas for a feature.

Matt: Most of the short films I’ve seen fall into the category of either the Animated or the Arty. Is there a whole sub-genre of horror\thrill shorts that I’m not aware of?

Ms. McKenzie: Definitely! Some of the festivals I’ve attended like NFFTY and CineYouth have film screenings solely dedicated to the horror/thriller genre, and CineYouth even has a junior and senior award for “Best Thriller”. There’s a large network of filmmakers within that as well. Gigi Saul Guerrero for example has had a short in NFFTY’s “Edge of Your Seat” screening for years, and she’s now working on developing a feature based on her short “El Gigante”. It’s a cool genre to be a part of, and you definitely meet some cool people within it.

Jay: Is film something you want to pursue as a career, or more of a passion? How did this fascination with making your own movies start? What films\filmmakers have influenced you the most? 

Ms. McKenzie: Film is something I will pursue as a career. It started as an interest after watching JJ Abrams’ film “Super 8”, but then as I explored making short films and became more experienced, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue long-term. Shows like Breaking Bad and True Detective that have an ongoing feeling of suspense and wonder have strongly influenced my work. I gravitate towards suspense and non linear storytelling. Individual people that have influenced me range from Ray Bradbury, Reed Morano, David Lynch, Vince Gilligan, Roger Deakins and the Coen Brothers.

Matt: You’ve had your films screened at several festivals around the world and have been fortunate enough to attend at least a few of them. What’s it been like to meet so many other young filmmakers and how do you think it’s influenced the way you make movies?

Ms. McKenzie: Meeting other youth filmmakers has been amazing. I’m able to network with other people my age that have the same interests as me, have someone to bounce ideas off of,
and have a friendship at the same time. It allows you to have someone you can count on in filmmaking and in life.

Matt: What can you tell us about Ellie, which you begin shooting at the end of the month?

Ms. McKenzie: Ellie was originally meant to be done a year ago at Prodigy Camp, a camp based just outside of Seattle. I wrote it working with Emmy award-winning script mentor John Jacobsen, and had cast Nathan Gamble (The Mist, The Dark Knight) as the lead. Because the script was too long to shoot in the three-hour block given, complications with my DP, and almost everything else going wrong, I wasn’t able to finish shooting.

Now, I can start over with Ellie, here in Ottawa. It’s the first time I’ve hired union actors. ACTRA has been really supportive, and Ilona Smyth (Smyth Casting) made the casting process really enjoyable. I’ve also increased the quality of my equipment, and I’m ready to take a step forward with my filmmaking. This film can do that.

Matt: Earlier this year at the National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), you got the
chance to speak about your experience as a female filmmaker. What’s it been like for you as a female filmmaker?

Ms. McKenzie: I get asked this question a lot and have a hard time answering it because it’s not
something I often think about. I’m aware it’s an issue and a big problem in the industry, but I haven’t felt the effect personally (probably because I haven’t worked professionally yet). I do get frustrated with the label of a female filmmaker. You don’t see females in other professions being labeled “female doctor” or “female fireman”, it seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?

I frequently see people surprised about the amount of dark material in my work. Maybe people expect to see themes from a teenage female filmmaker that involve  romance, or butterflies and fairies. But those themes don’t interest me, unless of course the fairy is out to murder wolves, then we’re talking.

Jay: Last year you were able to attend prodigy camp thanks to a scholarship from NFFTY. What did you learn while at camp, and how do you see your education in film making continuing?

Ms. McKenzie: I learned so much at Prodigy Camp. I loved playing different crew roles on other campers films. You end up learning so much from the other kids and DP’s while on set. I as well learned the value of being able to connect with your crew. In this case, I was not able to connect with my DP, so decision-making was very difficult, especially under the tight three hour shooting window we were given. This was one of the reasons I wasn’t able to complete Ellie at Prodigy Camp, but it was a good learning experience for me on the importance of being able to connect with your crew.

I want to continue expanding my knowledge in film. For post high school, my current plan is to apply to the Canadian Film Centre (CFC) for their six month intensive directing or editing program. But, my plan for after high school changes often. My backup plan is to take a gap year to work and build more of my portfolio.

Jay: How do you perceive the film making culture here in Ottawa? Do you think Canadians
have to be in Hollywood in order to be successful in the movie industry?

Ms. McKenzie: The filmmaking culture in Ottawa is good! Not as major as other places in Canada like Toronto, but we definitely have great local production companies like Zed Filmworks and Affinity, as well as resources like SAW Video for training and equipment rentals.

The youth indie film culture in Ottawa is what’s lacking. There are fewer opportunities for teenage or youth filmmakers to collaborate because it’s a smaller community, so you end up working alone on most things.

At the same time, I don’t think we as Canadians need to be in Hollywood to be successful. Indie filmmaking is such a big thing nowadays, and there are so many other resources you can go to that aren’t related to Hollywood.

Jay: Who are your biggest champions and supports as you pursue your dream?

Ms. McKenzie: I’m extremely fortunate to be able to have some extremely supportive parents. They are definitely one of my biggest supporters in film, assisting me in any way possible. We joke that they only do it so I’m obligated to put them in a nice home later.

Aside from immediate family, I’ve met some really amazing people through film in places like Seattle and New Jersey. These are the people that I can go to for read over of my latest script, but I also consider them to be close friends and seek their advice on life in general. We are all trying to reach the same goal, and all support each other in any way possible to make sure we can get there. I like that a lot.

As you can see, Morgana McKenzie is not only a talented film maker, but a thoughtful and well-spoken young woman too. We’re really proud to have gotten to know her a bit and hope you’ve enjoyed it as well. Her Kickstarter campaign is still in high gear, and I urge you again to think about giving. I know we are a community of film lovers, and this is a great way to express it and contribute to it.

If you have any questions for Ms. McKenzie, leave them in the comments. Let us know what you thought of her work. Do you admire any other film makers in the short-film oeuvre? Do you know any other “prodigies”? We look forward to hearing from all of you, and we hope to bring you more news of Ms. McKenzie’s as her career continues.

On the Other Hand, it’s Drive-In Season!

Matt’s been belly-aching about his favourite movie rental place biting the dust while the rest of us saw it coming for – what? – the past 15 years or so? Only teasing, Matt. Elgin Street Video was THE place; it managed to be a neighbourhood fixture and also a city-wide go-to for its eclectic catalogue that was worth getting your knees dusty for. The original owner was a bit of Luddite, like Matt, unwilling to believe that new technologies could topple his empire, having famously quoted to the Ottawa Citizen in 1994 “We certainly know the value of this so-called information highway has been grossly exaggerated in the media” but alas the internet finally caught up with his legacy (he died in 2008, his video store outliving him an impressive 7 years thanks to friendsdrivein and family who vowed to keep it going). The store will shutter for good at the end of the month, and in the meantime, the store’s contents are on sale and everything must go. Everything? Even the wacky memorabilia? Even John Candy’s pants? Well, that remains to be seen.

So while Matt’s throwing a funeral for the crumbs of his nostalgia, I’m still indulging in mine.

The drive in. Oddly enough, the drive-in was almost done in by videotape. It nearly vanished when people could simply rent a tape at Blockbuster and take it home to their living rooms instead. They’ve been going extinct for 40 years now, but here’s the thing: they’re not dead yet. And unlike DVD (or VHS!) rentals, there seems to be a throwback factor that’s keeping their faint hearts beating.

Why do I love the drive-in? What’s not to love about seeing a movie under the stars? About the sense of community involved in pointing our cars in the same direction, tuning in to the same radio station, honking our horns in unison to tell the projectionist we’re ready, flashing smiles along the way as we make the dark stumble towards the bathrooms, greet each other over popcorn, walk our dogs during intermission.

By the late 1950s, one-third of theaters in the US were drive-ins. It was an affordable way to see a movie (and often two or three), the drive-ins relying more heavily on concessions and the ticket prices staying quite low, often a set price for a whole carful of movie goers. Turns out that wasn’t a super sustainable business model and today there are fewer than 350 operating drive-ins in the US (there are about 40 000 indoor screens, by contrast). But there are some things that deserve a resurgence, and like vinyl records currently enjoying a comeback, so are drive-in theatres.

This weekend, our local (the only local) drive-in theatre showed its first double bill of the season (drive-in season in snowy Canada is tragically short). It never matters what they’re showing; concessionSean and I go every other weekend, which is as often as they bring in new movies. The movies are almost always movies we’ve already seen paired with a movie we had no intention of seeing, but we go. We bring blankets and pillows and mosquito netting and a picnic, and a bottle of champagne. We watch the movies with varying degrees of interest, sometimes with rapt attention from the edge of our captain’s chairs, other times stretched out in the backseat, half an eye on the screen and someone’s hand up someone else’s shirt. Being at the drive-in reminds us old married fuddy-duddies of the art of making out. It inspires us to learn new ways of doing old tricks so that the Volkswagen doesn’t get to a-rocking. It gives us a new appreciation of the suburbs – the night sky, the fresh air, the full moon, the fireflies. I can’t say exactly why we love to go, but we do.

Maybe it is a form of reminiscing. As kids, Mom would have us all put on our jammies before piling into the van. We’d negotiate amongst ourselves for who would sit in the middle seats, and who would go way back. There’d be cheesies and juice boxes during the first film, the family one, and during the second we were expected to sleep. I remember sneaking surreptitious peaks at the screen during Crocodile Dundee 2, a movie only tantalizing to someone who’d been told it was off-limits, “too grown-up” (it was rated PG).

Now we have the luxury of leaving if we don’t like the second feature, but we rarely do. The movie is secondary at the Templeton Cineparc. Foremost is the holding of hands, the nuzzling, the ability to talk through the movie without being shushed, smuggling in a whole pizza if the mood strikes, and having privacy but still enjoying the communal aspect of watching a movie with your neighbours. We’ve only just been and I’m already itching to go back.

 

 

 

Do you have childhood memories of the drive-in? Do you still go? Do you have one near by?