Welcome to our new ongoing series of blog posts featuring interviews with our membership. The Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta is an artist-run co-operative that exists to facilitate and support the creation, exhibition, distribution, and preservation of independent film, video and new media art in Northern Alberta. What makes that all possible is the artists, filmmakers, and creators that are members of our society. Watch this space on #MembershipMonday as we highlight a different member weekly.
How did you start working in film and why?
I began working in theatre as a writer and director, and then started a theatre company called Workshop West Theatre here in Edmonton. I did that for seventeen years and wanted to try something new. There’s a fair amount of crossover with directing theatre and directing films because you’re telling stories visually, with sound, with people, with drama and comedy, and everything in between. In theatre, you’re a bit more restricted visually because you have to do it all within one space, and you have less control over the final product because you don’t know what the actors and the audience are going to create together on any given night. Film gives you more creative freedom that way and gives you a little more control of the final product.
How did you find out about FAVA and why did you join?
I worked with Fringe Theatre for a while with a friend, David Cheoros, who later became the Executive Director at FAVA. He showed me around one day and I thought, “I should try this.” I started taking some of the workshops and courses there and I really loved it. My friend Shaun Johnston was also a FAVA member and had mentioned it a few times. I got involved and started making my own little art films, and that was interesting because I had mostly worked as a director and with playwrights, helping them find their voice and tell their stories in the best way possible in theatre. With film, the way I started was by making up my own stories and I enjoyed that. I had written plays before but rarely directed them myself. I also like learning. I’m 70 years old now and I have spent a lot of my time teaching but just as much as I enjoy teaching, I enjoy learning. I’m still learning a whole lot about film. You could live 500 years and still keep learning about film.
What was a great collaborative experience you’ve had on a project?
Every theatre production and every film is collaborative. I said before how I have more control in film than in theatre but ultimately, nobody has complete control of what you’re getting because you’re working with collaborators. That’s a good thing because ideally, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. More people contributing can make a better experience for the audience, the viewers, and for the film itself.
I think one of the best experiences I’ve had with collaborating was for my film called Rabbits & Monsters. I collaborated with several of my FAVA friends on that one. It was edited by Joel Higham and shot by Rick Gustavsen. We cast the extras through FAVA by putting out a call on their website and also found some crew members that way. That film was a big step forward for me because it was a longer and more complicated narrative film which involved both animation and live action. Each film I’ve made has taken me a little bit further, taught me a bit more and given me more confidence in filmmaking. Mark Power, who was a longtime FAVA member, came in and did some editing on that one too after Joel had worked on it for quite a while and had to move on to other projects. Mark and I made a couple of films together and that was wonderful.
How has FAVA supported your filmmaking journey?
FAVA is a really special organization. It has lots of good equipment for rent, it has people with expertise, and it has a community. That’s what I really appreciate about FAVA. I took lots of courses for several years there and got involved with the board and committees. I tried to pitch in because I really believe in the idea of a co-op, and that’s what FAVA is. The best thing about FAVA is that you can find collaborators there and get advice from people, you can share stories of what works and what doesn’t work for you, and you can find crews and creative partners. It’s fabulous that way.
How does it feel to present your work with an audience?
It’s always a little bit scary because you don’t know how an audience will respond, but it’s also good because that’s why you’re doing it. For me, film and theatre and the arts are mediums for communication, for sharing experience, for sharing ideas, for sharing feelings and stories. That’s the whole purpose. It’s great to have an audience; you love it on some level. It’s also terrifying if they don’t like it or don’t respond in the way you thought they would at a certain moment in the film, or if they don’t understand something you’ve done, but mostly it’s a great experience. It feels like the culmination of the film isn’t really complete until the audience in front of it. Maybe that’s my prejudice because I’m a theatre guy originally, but I don’t think a film really exists until someone other than you and your creative team sees it. The audience doesn’t have to like what you’ve made necessarily, but they have to understand it. For a lot of us at least, films have the intent to be understood. If they don’t like it, then you learn from that process. Artists have to develop a thick skin because there will always be people who don’t understand what you’re doing or don’t like it for some reason. That’s just a part of the deal. If you please everyone, then you probably aren’t making anything very interesting.
What are you working on next?
My documentary is finished and it’s the first feature length film I’ve made. I’m currently figuring out how to promote and open the film, and sending it out to festivals and college campuses. There’s still a lot of work to be done yet on that project regarding follow-through. When you think your film is done, it’s not really done until you find a way to get it out to the world. That is a great undertaking in itself.
I don’t know what I’m going to do next for film. I’ve got a couple of documentary ideas and a feature film script that I’ve been working on for several years. Every project is a challenge, and I’m a writer as well as a filmmaker. After working on this documentary for four years, I’m thinking maybe I’ll just focus on writing for a little while.
Where can we find your work?