In oder to provide a platform where Canadians can learn more about our independent film makers, we’ve started a series called “10 Questions”. We’re reaching out to MIFF Alumni to give us their thoughts about Canadian film, the film making process and everything in between…
Our first is Sevé Schelenz, Director/Writer of Skew and runner up in last year’s festival. He’s been kind enough to kick off our series and give us some of his thoughts.
1. What is your favourite movie and why?
Wow, too much pressure. How can you have that “one” favorite movie? Impossible. By the time you say what it is, you instantly come up with another. So, I’ll give you five of my favorites. Jaws, Back to the Future, Star Wars – A New Hope, Terminator, and…and… Raiders of the Lost Ark. For me it’s all about story and characters. All these films have either amazing characters, thought provoking stories, or both. I think another criteria for judging your favorite movie is if you’d watch it again. And I don’t mean just once more, but again and again in years to come. I wouldn’t hesitate to watch any of these films again a year or even 20 years from now. They are instant classics and will definitely stand the test of time.
2. What drives you as a filmmaker?
I absolutely love working in film. I think it is really hard for creative people to live in a world where we need to go to work 5 days a week, 9 to 5, to pay our rent and do all the other mundane things – especially if that work is non-creative. For me, writing a film script is one of the hardest things to do. Yet that is what makes it one of the most rewarding things to do. I absolutely love creating a world that follows my rules and bringing characters in and out of it. Ultimately, I want to reach out to an audience and entertain them. I also need to write. I have so many stories and ideas I want to get down on paper that I would die disappointed if I didn’t. I think the biggest tragedy for any creative person is not trying. To be on your deathbed and say to yourself, “Well at least I tried” and even possibly failing is more rewarding than not trying. I have a message on my phone whenever I turn it on. It says, “Never give up.” I pass these three simple and most powerful words along to your creative readers out there. I urge them to live and die by this rule.
3. Who is your greatest influence and why?
I would imagine my greatest influence, as a filmmaker would have to be Steven Spielberg. In the top five films I noted above, he alone had a large part in three of them. Not only has he written, directed, and produced some of the most successful films of all time (both creatively and financially) but he’s had an impact on so many other filmmakers over at least the last thirty-five plus years. You would be hard pressed to find one director today who has not learned from Spielburg’s work in the film world. I would be really stoked to meet him one day and I hope to have a chance to work with him in some capacity.
4. What actor would you most like to work with and why?
Man, these questions are killing me. How can you pick just one actor! So many names instantly come to mind. Old school actors like DeNiro, Pacino, and Hackman would definitely make the top of that list. In their prime they were incredible forces to work with. Along this same line of amazing talent I would also include Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, and Jeff Bridges. Now let’s not forget the amazing actresses out there as well – Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, and Judi Dench. I am also a huge fan of some of the lesser-known yet amazing character actors such as Bruce Greenwood, David Morse, and Angela Bassett. Okay, so that’s about twelve actors so far. Can I have them all in my Hollywood film? Although, even one of these actors would be amazing to work with, the reality is that I would want the perfect actor to fit the role that was written. It would be more important to me to have an actor that fits the character that I envisioned. Now having said all that, my true dream of working with someone in Hollywood wouldn’t necessarily be a well-known actor, but a director. I would kill at the chance to work with some of the greats and just be on set to discover how they put their vision together. My top three directors to work with would be Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, and Steven Spielberg. All three have their own unique style and to learn from these masters would only make me a better director.
5. Please share your process around how you bring a project together
All good films start with a good script. So I prepare myself for about six months to get this ready. After several drafts, I will finally lock it down. And by “lock” I mean 95% lock as things will always change based on funds, location availability, and well, just about anything else you didn’t plan for. The next stage is to get help. This comes in the form of another producer. By default, as an independent filmmaker you will be a producer because, trust me, you’ll be doing a bit of just about everything in the film. Once you get another producer on board, everything else begins to happen by phone, e-mail and personal meetings. Now, I’ll stop right here and say that there are about a million things you need to do from this point on, but if you don’t have the basic filmmaking education (as in you didn’t go to film school or work on a real production already) then you might want to put your next moves on hold until you do. At this point you are in pre-production mode and after the script, that is the most important stage of making a film. I recommend taking at least 3 months for this stage – even longer if you can. Trust me, you don’t want to show up to production and be unprepared. Thirty other people who have sacrificed their time to help you with the production will not be very impressed if you are unprepared on the first day of shooting. After ironing out the most important details in pre-production, you go into production. This ranges in time and depends if you’re shooting five days a week or on weekends only. For the sake of argument, we’ll go with the five days a week scenario. So, you prepare yourself for about three to six weeks of production. Postproduction follows and that can take another three to six months (maybe longer). When the film is finished you are then dealing with festivals, reviewers, sales agents and distributors. Wow, I really made it sound so simple didn’t I?
6. Have you ever done anything illegal while getting the shot? Do tell us.
This is a really fun question. As soon as I read it I smiled and started thinking of all the crazy and illegal things I may have done on any of my productions. Do you know what I came up with? Nothing. Off the top of my head I couldn’t think of anything that was out and out illegal. I’ve definitely shot in locations where we didn’t have permission, and was even approached about it. I’ve definitely done vehicle shots where we broke laws regarding speed, seatbelt (or lack thereof) and extraneous devices attached to the hood of the car. I’ve even gone to brothels where… oh wait, that didn’t happen. Wow, quite frankly that makes me feel really boring. I’m going to have to do something a little more illegal on my next production to up the ante.
7. If you could be a successful filmmaker in any era, when would it be?
I would have to say the mid 70s to mid 80s were definitely the highlight of moviemaking for me. Once again such great talents as Spielberg with Jaws, Lucas with Star Wars, and Scorsese with Taxi Drivercompletely stood out. What is also appealing about this time is the fact that these filmmakers in particular, including Coppola, were the next generation of creators. They created the new rules for filmmakers and opportunities within the studio system. What an amazing time it would have been to be on set with any of these greats and see movie history in the making.
8. If you could go studio, would you? Why or why not?
The absolute best situation for me would be to do a half-and-half deal. I would love to work with a quality studio on good productions. For me the combination of a good film and actually having the funds to do it right would be quite intriguing. On the flip side, I would always want to have the freedom to do my own projects on the side. So the obvious ideal scenario would be to make money from these studio projects in order to fund the independent ones. Steven Soderbergh is a filmmaker who does just that and I think that’s awesome.
9. How has MIFF affected you? In terms of where you are now, movie making, the festival itself?
MIFF was a great experience for me. I had a chance to meet some other filmmakers, showcase my horror feature Skew and be a part of the festival experience. Although it’s amazing to have your film selected for a festival, it’s even more special when it’s in your own country. I think MIFF had a strong influence in getting other festivals to take a good look at Skew for consideration – again, especially ones within Canada. Moving forward, I would definitely consider MIFF as a good stepping-stone for getting exposure for projects. I strongly recommend all filmmakers to submit their projects to MIFF. This is a festival with strong grass roots and will only grow and become a powerful force on the circuit as the years go by.