For his first feature-length film Beyond Control, filmmaker and artist Raymond Knight found inspiration by walking into a closet.
“I was at my friend’s house, the house that I live now, and they have this really intense upstairs closet. It’s like a secret closet within a secret closet,” said Knight.
“And as I walked though it, I literally saw flashes of movie shots, and this scene unfolded in my head.”
At first, Knight thought the script he then began writing would become a short film, but as it expanded and grew he began to feel it was a powerful story that could be a full-length film.
It revolves around a day in the life of a girl in her early 20s, said Knight, and how the house she lives in is a catalyst for understanding her past relationships and current psychology.
As pre-production now comes to a close and Knight readies for shooting, he acknowledges that the effort necessary to bring his project this far, with little to no funding, has largely been due to the support of those involved in the burgeoning local film scene.
Though local filmmaking — from both in and out of Nanaimo — has ebbed and flowed over the years, it is currently experiencing a new influx of interest and money.
In March, part of the sci-fi Godzilla reboot was filmed in Nanaimo, pumping an estimated $100,000 into the local economy each day. It was the third blockbuster to be shot locally.
Scenes from Superman: Man of Steel were also completed at the Cassidy Inn in 2011 (which had a cameo by local singer Allison Crowe), and parts of the Twilight teen-vampire series were filmed in the Nanaimo area in 2009.
However, those in the industry say that with the allure of spectacular locations, skilled talent and crew, and affordable rates, even more film business could be attracted to the city.
Creative filmmakers like Knight, however, aren’t necessarily holding their breath for film projects to come from outside the city and are just getting on with doing what they can, with the materials they have.
“There’s a really interesting creative community of filmmakers out there who don’t necessarily have all the money or the equipment,” said Knight.
“We’re all just trying to do it, and not get too stuck in the process . . . it’s like a painting, right? I’m just going to do it, it’s funny how much pressure people put on making a film.”
In July of last year, the Hub City Cinema Society was founded with precisely that aim in mind: To free up energy and inspiration around the process of filmmaking by gathering the community together in film-related activities.
Already at more than 200 members, the group currently meets about once a week to discuss scripts and exchange ideas.
“We have weekly events, and have basically been planning script sessions where writers come in and they have 20 pages of a script that they’ve written and we read through three or four scripts and talk about the writing,” said Knight.
“We have actors’ assemblies where we perform scripts . . . and we do a film jam every three or four months where we just show up with cameras and props and we completely come up with a story line, film it in five hours, and then spend the next three months getting together and editing it.”
Many of those pieces will be featured in a screening at Nanaimo Centre Stage at the end of the month during the city’s Culture Days celebrations.
“You can’t go very far making movies by yourself, you have to find other people who want to do it with you,” said Hub City founding member Zachary Tannar, whose five-minute film The Canvas of His Imagination will be shown at the event. “So I just made a Facebook group and people started joining.”
For start-up filmmakers like Knight, the support and connections the group has provided have been essential.
With a 115-page script, months of auditions to cast — and then re-cast, in some cases — the film’s 28 volunteer actors, and locations that needed to be booked, it was a project that could never have been started without the community providing help, he said.
Shirley Goldberg’s interest in film started in earnest in the 1940s, while completing her undergraduate degree at Reed College in Portland, Ore. It was particularly sparked when the Russian politician Alexander Kerensky visited her class.
“On the occasion of his visit, we had a chance to see a number of the films of (Sergei) Eisenstein,” said Goldberg, who has since become a pillar of support in the local film community. “It was quite an eye-opener, I had only been exposed to American movies up until that time — Westerns, that sort of thing. It was quite a surprise. I got very interested in film right about at that time.”
Goldberg went on to develop and teach the first film studies course at Vancouver Island University. In February, the 90-year-old was given the first Film Paragon Award at the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival in recognition her 35 years of contributions to the Vancouver Island film community.
Festival organizer and co-founder Johnny Blakeborough said it was Goldberg who encouraged him to make his first film
18 years ago. It is a legacy he hopes to carry on with the Festival, now preparing for its ninth year of showcasing short films both from here and abroad.
“It was 2006, and there wasn’t really anywhere for people to show their films — there might have been people making films, but . . . we weren’t really sure what people were doing in our community,” said Blake-
Organizers had an inkling of what might be out there, he added, but they were totally surprised by the response the first event generated, which took place in the old Caprice theatre.
“We were blown away by the stuff that was submitted. We had no idea what we were going to get,” he said.
All entries were chosen by a panel of experts, a tradition that has carried through to today, to guarantee the festival not only gives a venue for filmmakers but is also entertaining for the audience, said Blakeborough.
Though the festival does not limit entries from other communities or even other countries, approximately half end up coming from local filmmakers, said Blakeborough, which he views as is a testament to the talent that exists on-Island.
When the city of Duncan decided to transform its curling rink into a 10,000 square-foot sound stage in May. to accomodate a television series, it was a bold move that netted the community approximately $14 million in revenue.
Housing three out of four of the project’s standing sets, the rink became the hub of filming for Spooksville — a four-month project from Vancouver-based Front Street Pictures that wrapped last month.
With at least half the crew comprised of locals, the choice of Duncan marked a turning point in the serious consideration of Vancouver Island locations for major film and television productions.
“The locations on the Island are hidden gems,” said local acting coach Jacqui Kaese. “You don’t have to deal with traffic and heavy permits, and there is an abundance of people who want to work.”
Kaese was cast as a ghost in Spooksville’s The Howling Ghost episode, which airs Halloween day on the U.S.-based Hub network.
The outlook for the local film industry is complicated, said Kaese, who hosted a film camp with Tannar this summer.
“Considering that we’re supposed to be on a downward trend within the industry in general in B.C. . . . there are some actors that have been saying they’re busier than they’ve ever been,” she said.
Kaese attributes this business to the rise of independent film, combined with the ease of available technology from cheaper cameras to online venues for screening.
“There’s a big growing trend now for local filmmakers that are basically taking cameras out and working with non-union local actors and producing things that are getting a huge following via the internet and YouTube.”
However Nanaimo could take a page out of Duncan’s book when it comes to encouraging outside productions like Spooksville, said Kaese.
Though a film office operated in Nanaimo for about four years, council decided to discontinue funding in 2006 because it wasn’t seeing much value for the investment.
The city spent $408,000 on the film office between 2001 and 2006 and gained about $624,000 in economic benefits in 2002, according to the city’s economic development office. That number jumped to $2.6 million in 2005.
The filming of Godzilla in March marked what the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation hopes will be a new partnership between the city and InFilm, the Vancouver Island North Film Commission that represents 22 communities within six regional districts.
“This was something we looked at for this year,” said NEDC CEO Sasha Angus. “It’s an opportunity for us to leverage some of their expertise . . . we want to be able to support filming and increase filming in the region, but we don’t want to duplicate services that are already out there.”
An economic impact assessment of arts and culture is currently underway, said Angus, who added that the film industry is a great example of how artistic productions can also “be great business as well.”
In May, the NEDC agreed to grant InFilm $20,000, an amount that will be reviewed in a year.
Campbell River currently pays about $50,000 per year to the commission.
Local films will be shown during the city’s Cultural Days festival, including those by Tannar and Knight, at Nanaimo Centre Stage on Victoria Road, Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m.
Filmmakers who want to submit entries for the Vancouver Island Short Film Festival can catch the early bird deadline (and get the $20 entry fee) on
Oct. 1. Entry details can be found at ww.visff.com.
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