Scene from "Altitude," directed by Kaare Andrews © Alliance Films Media
Tom Ue: I have seen a lot of your work on Spider-Man and The X-Men. You are probably best known for the cover drawing of the upside-down Spider-Man kissing Mary Jane. How did your comic book career begin?
Kaare Andrews: It began when I was about four years old, my earliest memory of actually buying a comic book. My Dad took my brother and me to a 7-11 and my brother bought a chocolate bar and I bought a comic book. I have vivid memories of trying to read without knowing how and being mesmerized by the images of the X-Men and Fantastic Four. It totally fascinated me. That’s really how my comic book career began, you know. That one early touchstone. It took a while longer to actually break in. After high school, I went to art school in Calgary for a couple years and I had started drawing sample pages and sending them off to the publishers. But with trying to keep up with mindless art school assignments and work almost full time to pay for school I felt frustrated and distracted. So I moved back home, into my Mom’s laundry room, and drew sample pages until I started getting work. At first, for no real money. Then, one job led to another and within a year or so I had broken into Marvel.
T.U.: What is your favourite piece to date?
K.A.: I am most proud of my first Spider-Man cover that I ever digitally painted because it kind of changed and defined me as an artist, opened up a lot of doors for me. I took a chance really, no one had asked me to paint it and digital painting wasn’t common back then. The truth is that I had become fascinated with oil paints but didn’t have the money to buy any. Digital painting seemed like the next best thing. And it paid off. It isn’t the best thing I ever painted but it is one of those turning points in an artistic career.
T.U.: Let’s talk more about Altitude. How is filming the feature similar or different from producing comics?
K.A.: Well, when you’re a kid there is literally no difference between comics, toys and movies. They are just the same thing. It isn’t until we grow older that people try to tell you they are different and that you can’t do everything. But let me tell you, as obsessed as I was with comics, I was also obsessed with film. What’s interesting is that I wasn’t particularly obsessed with films. I was obsessed with filmmaking. Again, I have vivid memories of renting books from the library about filmmaking at a very young age and not being able to grasp the concepts of the book but feeling a certain magic about it all. I soon found Cinemagic magazine and had always had an interest in animation, etc. My Dad bought me a Super-8 camera and I would make little stop motion films. So, I feel like going to films was returning to childhood for me. To more directly answer your question, creating comicbooks is about the most isolating artistic experience imaginable. I work all day, alone in my studio. Filmmaking, on the other hand, is about the most collaborative art form. You work with hundreds of people on the same project, leading them to a singular vision.
T.U.: In your view, is it more difficult for an aspiring artist to start a career in comics or filmmaking?
K.A.: This is an easy question. There may be more people out there that are trying to break into filmmaking but it is so much harder to start a career in comicbooks for one reason—There are fewer jobs out there. Every city has a public TV station and there are literally hundreds of production companies, studios etc… but in comics there are maybe three or four major players. That’s really what led to me to comics first. I knew it was harder to break into. And I am a very competitive person. I like terrible odds and I like to “win”. The great thing about filmmaking is that I feel exactly where I am in film as where I was in comics when I was first breaking in. There is a lot of opportunity out there and I am excited to fight for it, to see where it goes. I have big plans!
T.U.: What was the best tip anyone gave you about working in the comic book or film industry?
K.A.: The best quote I ever heard about filmmaking is from Zach Snyder. “Filmmaking is a war of perseverance”. It’s a quote I read while in preproduction on Altitude and it turned out to be the gospel truth. The way you win fights is to be the last man standing. You watch people crumble around you, give up, make bad decisions, etc… but at the end of the day if you just hang in there, you will succeed.
T.U.: Altitude is not your first film. You have previously directed and written a number of shorts. What made you decide to try for a long feature?
K.A.: I’ve always had feature filmmaking as a goal. The shorts were practice. They also opened up some doors for me, got me into TIFF, the Canadian Film Centre, grants, etc…
T.U.: What is it like shooting in BC?
K.A.: It’s the only place I’ve ever shot in so I can’t really compare it with any place else. The interesting thing about BC is we have a lot of very high level studio films shooting here so we have a good crew. But we have almost no indigenous productions! I love shooting here. There is a very strong community of young, guerrilla filmmakers.
T.U.: Tell us about the casting.
K.A.: Well, we cast Jessica Lowndes first. We were looking for up and coming actors with an ‘it’ factor and she was someone we found on 90210. I met her in LA and it all just seemed to click. Only after we cast her did I discover she is from Vancouver! Weird, huh? So she was happy to come home and do a movie close to her family. We built the cast around Jessica and she was invaluable in the casting process. She read with our other actors and brought some friends to the auditions. I feel like we have a very strong cast. One of the things I’m most proud of.
TU.: Visually, your film looks stunning. I can just imagine you storyboarding the film frame by frame. Tell us about the art-direction.
KA.: Yeah, I storyboarded almost every shot. And I did extensive pre-viz on about three VFX heavy sequences. I love that part of the process. I can’t wait to have more of a budget and more time to really flex those muscles.
T.U.: Paul A. Birkett wrote the screenplay for the film. Was there improvisation or did the film evolve in the making?
K.A.: There was a little bit. For the most part, what you see is what was written, except for two small things. There is a kiss that was an improvisation and there is a moment with our two leads arguing about his past that utilized some improvisation. I tried to empower the actors to try things but the only other improvised moments were a few quips and jokes. This was the first real project in film where I was working from a previously existing script. Usually, I write my own projects, and so this was a challenge. I was trying to honor and respect Paul’s work but keep things moving and truthful.
T.U.: You are now working on your second film, The Hunted. Can you give us a sneak peak?
K.A.: Imagine if Blade Runner was a ninja movie… set in modern day… with no ninjas. That’s the pitch! J
T.U.: What’s next for you as a comic book artist?
K.A.: I am currently drawing a Warren Ellis scribed arch on Astonishing X-Men… speaking of which, I need to get back to the boards! I am running out of time to get this thing drawn.
T.U.: Thank-you so much for your time, and best wishes in your future endeavours!
K.A.: Thank you!
Tom Ue: I was prepared to be impressed after seeing Bruce Foster’s work in the pop-up title sequence of the film Enchanted. However, Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book: Based on the Film Phenomenon was an astounding experience. When did your careers as writers and pop-up artists begin?
Lucy Kee: I was just a kid who loved reading and writing. I studied creative writing in college and ran the literary journal, and things just kind-of progressed from there. My day job is as an editor at Insight Editions, which is how I got involved in this project.
B.F.: Thank you! I first discovered pop-ups through a design project I was assigned for Hi-C Juice back in 1989. Although as an art student at The University of Tennessee Knoxville, I had already been experimenting with shaped and three-dimensional art.
T.U.: What goes on behind the scenes of writing and building a pop-up book?
L.K.: I was working on this from the beginning, so for me the first step was various proposals and outlines to get the book greenlighted. At the same time, I was editing a traditional behind-the-scenes book about the Potter films (Harry Potter: Film Wizardry, published by Harper Collins). When it comes to Harry Potter there are a lot of levels of approval that licensed publications must go through. I primarily dealt with the publishing and consumer products divisions of Warner Bros., but the filmmakers and J.K. Rowling’s literary agency were also involved. Rowling has approval rights over any text that is based on her novels (in our case based on the movies based on her novels) and the agency serves as her representative. Bruce had more direct input from the film’s art department, which I will let him explain. We were in touch with Andrew Williamson through other people at the Potter studio’s art department, and Bruce was high on our list of pop-up engineers because he had done another book with us (The Spirit: A Pop-Up Graphic Novel). After they were both hired there was a lot of brainstorming about the pops and the structure of the book. On the writing side, once we were settled on what pops were going to be included, it was pretty straightforward. The only difficulty was that the release date of the book had been in limbo for a while, and when that was finally set (earlier than anticipated) it was a mad dash to get everything done in time for the approval by Rowling’s agency and for the long production time that pop-up books need.
B.F.: The first stage is a bit of a collaboration of ideas between the paper engineer, artist, art director, and writer. Once the scenes are agreed upon, someone sketches out an idea for the pop-up. Sometimes it’s the paper engineer, as in Harry Potter; sometimes the art director, as in Enchanted. Then the p.e. creates a white dummy that shows all the elements of volume, movement and scale. After feedback, templates are prepared for the artist to follow, and the art is returned to the p.e. for refinement, file set up and construction of a working color dummy.
T.U.: How did you decide on what aspects of the Harry Potter films to focus?
L.K.: In terms of the pops, we really wanted to wow people. That led to us thinking about moments from the whole series that we thought would be particularly dramatic in pop-up form. Hogwarts castle and the Triwizard Tournament were the first to come to mind. Another consideration was to try and show something from all of the films to date, and not have the book weigh too heavily on one episode. We had many more ideas than could ever have fit into one book! Luckily Bruce could tell us what was physically possible in terms of paper engineering, so some ideas were weeded out that way.
B.F.: Again, there was a lot of collaboration and discussion. For instance at first, there was an additional spread devoted to the muggle home of Harry. But after the Hogwarts castle began developing, it was decided that it would be more interesting to just jump into the magical world of Harry. But certain things were immediately set as a goal: Hogwarts, magical creatures, games and the Dark Arts.
A pop-up page of Hogwarts seems like a given, but what about graveyard scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Harry confronts Voldemort?
L.K.: It’s interesting that you mention that pop since it was actually one of the last to be decided upon. The original plan was to have Nagini as the main pop, but Warner Bros. felt that she had not been featured enough prior to the Deathly Hallows films, and Bruce could not use her appearance in Deathly Hallows Part 1 as a reference since the movie was still in production at the time. Luckily she stayed in as a side pop—probably my favorite of the whole book due to the fantastic motion that Bruce was able to achieve. We eventually settled on the graveyard scene as the main pop because it is such a turning point in the series; Voldemort goes from being an incorporeal threat to a physical one.
B.F.: As I had stated, we all wanted to devote a page to the villains of the story.
T.U.: While there is not as much writing in the book, a narrative clearly emerges. Do you see parallels between Harry’s immersion into his world, and ours into your book?
L.K.: In this type of book the visuals (both pops and artwork) are the focus, but I did endeavor to keep the text interesting and fresh. It’s an all ages book so I was picturing younger children reading it and also adults reading it to their children. Harry’s story is such a good example of a hero’s journey, and with each book and film he is discovering new things about the wizarding world. So yes, I think even amid the moviemaking details and behind-the-scenes facts there is a story to find in the book that follows Harry’s seven-year tale.
B.F.: I think Harry’s was more intense.
T.U.: You write that Diagon Alley was inspired by London in the early nineteenth-century and, indeed, many parts of England have retained a Victorian appearance. What do you think is the continuing appeal of Victorian aesthetics?
L.K.: Having recently searched for a home from that era (I ended up in one built in 1912), I know that I was drawn to Victorian and Edwardian architecture because of the craftsmanship that went into things like decorative moldings, inlayed hardwood floors, and other beautiful details that you just don’t find in modern homes. There is an ornate quality to Victorian decorative arts that I think people today find wonderfully indulgent and whimsical.
I know that Stuart Craig (the HP production designer) was particularly inspired by the London that Charles Dickens knew and wrote about—which is not surprising given that Harry has many Dickensian qualities. Beyond that, it does seem like some of Dickens’s best known works have come to personify “old London” for many people.
The modern perception of the Victorian lifestyle is, I’m sure, a bit more idyllic than the reality was. In fact, those same Dickens novels present plenty of social problems and pitfalls. In an age of cookie cutter subdivisions, though, a lot of us long for more quirks and character in our surroundings—hence the appeal.
T.U.: How long did this pop-up book take to make?
L.K.: Bruce can answer this in terms of creating the pops. As for the rest of the process, the first time I heard “Harry Potter” in terms of my job was back in 2008, when Insight Editions was vying for the license to do moviemaking books based on the franchise. I was not working on the pop-up during that whole time, but that does give you an idea of how long book development can take! As I said before, the actual writing went very quickly, but a lot of interviewing and information gathering had been done before I started.
B.F.: We began this project in June of 2009 and wrapped it up in March 2010. There was some tweaking after that, but basically this one took a long time: 9 months of development, three longer than I usually take. After that it took another 6 months to print and assemble.
T.U.: Is that long for a pop-up book?
B.F.: Yes, it usually takes around 6 months.
T.U.: How are these books produced in mass?
B.F.: Pop-ups are hand-assembled in the Far East, usually China, but sometimes Thailand or Malaysia. Upwards of three thousand people can be involved in assembling a book!
T.U.: What are some of the challenges of building this book?
B.F.: First and foremost, this book had to be true to the visual reality set forth in the movies. Hogwarts was particularly difficult as buildings had to be precise and as precisely arranged as possible. I probably built seven versions before it was correct and also worked correctly as a pop-up.
T.U.: In your view, what was the most challenging page, and why?
B.F.: Hogwarts and The Magical Creatures spreads were most difficult for me. So many things had to tuck into other pieces, often times moving in opposing directions. The work on the strength of placements measured in millimeters.
T.U.: What was the most difficult pop-up you have ever made?
B.F.: Hogwarts. Also a pop-up of the Tower of Babel from In the Beginning.
T.U.: The book speaks from the perspective of the film production. Have other viewpoints been considered during its making?
L.K.: Not really. By contract, we only had permission to explore the films from a behind-the-scenes perspective. The rights to tell the story of Harry Potter in print are exclusively J.K. Rowling’s so there was never any idea of making the book more of a narrative or from Harry’s perspective. Since the pops themselves are “in world,” however, there is still that opportunity to really escape into the story—at least visually.
T.U.: You do not include many hints of what is new, visually or thematically, about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Why?
L.K.: The two Deathly Hallows movies are the least represented simply because we were working on the book at the same time that they were being filmed and we could not confirm which scenes from the book would make the final cut. We do have the Nagini pop (which I think of as being from Deathly Hallows since she is not featured much in the films prior) and the “Undesirable No. 1” poster which is seen Deathly Hallows Part 1. I sincerely hope we will be able to do a second volume that incorporates some of the big moments from Deathly Hallows Part 2.
B.F.: It was my understanding that Warner Bros specifically requested no spoilers.
T.U.: Do you find pop-up books being particularly important at this time when we invest so much in ereaders?
L.K.: Absolutely. No matter how advanced ereaders become, they can never match the feel of holding a pop-up book and watching paper scenes unfold right before your eyes. Pop-ups can be animated, but such animation is not nearly as impressive as actual paper engineering because it is done without physical limitations. There are many wonderful things about ereaders—first in my mind is the fact that they give one the ability to easily carry a whole library—but they lack the tactile quality that regular books have. When reading a novel, you might not miss that quality, but you certainly would in a pop-up book. Actually, this question of physical versus virtual is one that applies to the Potter films as well. Visual effects technologies have advanced dramatically over the ten years that the films have been in production, and their development has certainly had an effect on the films. The filmmakers have used both practical special effects (water, fire, mechanical devices, etc) and visual effects done with computers for the whole series, but as visual effects became easier and cheaper they began to be used more and more in place of “regular” special effects. I appreciate both, just as I appreciate both ebooks and traditional books, but I will say that I think it’s very important for filmmakers to evaluate which option will actually look best in their finished scene and not just which option is the easiest. I am sure we can all rattle off a list of movies ruined by bad computer effects (my personal pet peeve is bad CGI animals).
In my opinion, the Potter films have had a good balance. In fact, one thing that people may be surprised to learn about them is just how many things that looked like good computer animation were actually animatronics, models, or complicated machinery (such as the door to the Chamber of Secrets). Working on this book has really given me appreciation for such techniques.
B.F.: The ereading revolution is only beginning. Perhaps more than ever its important to place these objects of hand-made creativity into people’s hands. Our minds are also engaged by the spatial anomalies of pop-ups in a different way than just reading words on a screen.
T.U.: Thank-you so much for your time, and best of luck with your endeavours!
L.K.: Thank you!
Tom Ue: Tell us a bit about the making of the sequence in Enchanted, which featured a book with two pop-up pages of a castle and of the evil queen in her room as she glances out at the prince with his servant. Was a physical book made for the film?
Bruce Forster: Yes, but only up to a point. Kevin Lima, the director, wanted to open the movie with a real pop-up book. But to his credit, he wanted it to be genuine, not a “made up” cgi book. So I designed and built the white paper dummies for the three opening pop-ups so that they had a model. It was important to capture the physicality of paper as well. In pop-ups, sometimes the layers of paper push against each other to encourage the pop to unfold. The computer animators had to work at duplicating those physics, unlike cgi “pops” that exist in an absolute world of zero thick planes, but no volume or texture. Once I provided the models, the art was added digitally by Lisa Keene, the art director for these sequences. Then WETA in New Zealand provided the animation. Once this sequence was finished, Kevin was so pleased with the effect that he decided to also close the movie with pop-ups. But unlike the opening, these last dozen or so scenes in the movie had already been filmed or animated. So we had to study the various scenes and identify the sweet spot in each that would be able to collapse or rise as a pop-up (depending on its sequence). This was in a way much more difficult than beginning from scratch since in order to translate some of these into pop-ups, we had to deal with the issues of elements that break the frame. For instance, the skyscraper tower had to be contained within the frame of the movie as it collapsed.
T.U.: Beauty and the Beast famously used glass windows for a framing narrative. Is the use of a pop-up book more complex?
B.F.: Yes, in the sense that it has the extra stages of form and action that have to be developed first. Once those decisions were accomplished, it became another illustration task, like those stained glass windows.
T.U.: Are there actual limits to what can be done with a pop-up book?
B.F.: Absolutely. Paper has its limitations in reality; pop-ups have certain “rules” of physics. Angles have to be conducive to popping. The geometries of the structure mean that one angle in a pop will directly influence the others. One of the challenges of keeping pop-ups fresh is finding new ways to seemingly break those rules. Also, pop-ups must be durable and collapse so that the elements remain inside a closed book. So often I see computer generated “pop-ups” that defy reality. Elements stand or spring into life with no basis in actual physics. Buildings arrange themselves in myriad directions, sometimes crowding right up to the edge of the paper. In a real book, those walls have to tuck in somehow and the physics of our reality are not forgiving, unlike the computer world.
T.U.: One important difference between reading the pop-up book and seeing it onscreen is the amount of time that we get to read the details. A related one is Alan Menken’s musical score. How important is time to pop-up books?
B.F.: Interesting question. I believe time is very important in a pop-up book. A sequence may only take a few sections, but there is a sequence of action, a ballet of angles and forms that must be experienced to fully appreciate. While the sequences in Enchanted were successful as onscreen animation, an actual book allows one to savor the moment and extend it so that one can appreciate the details.
T.U.: What other ways do you see reading a pop-up book onscreen been different?
B.F.: You don’t get to experience the tactile elements and most importantly, the magic of having an object unfold and grow inside your own three-dimensional space.
T.U.: Is watching an animation more similar to reading a pop-up book than we might imagine?
B.F.: With deference to how cool it was to see these pops on the big screen, there is a great deal that is missed by watching a pop-up unfold on the big screen or behind a glass plane as in the case of a computer or Ipad screen. So far I’ve been unimpressed with attempts to bring pop-ups to the e-book world. Movables, which are one type of paper engineering that makes things move flatly by manipulating a tab, are in a way, a translation of animation back to the world of paper, are thus naturally suited to electronic media. But volume pops? Not until 3-D is better perfected and/or 3-D holograms are a reality.
Tom Ue: Browsing through your credits on IMDB, you have had quite a career! I have to ask this: how did you get involved in acting?
Noah Reid: I guess I just always liked performing. As a kid, there's nothing better than being able to make people laugh and applaud you, so I loved the theatre. I think my first real role was Oliver in the musical Oliver at the tender age of six, and it was incredible. The people, the costumes, the audience, the girls, all that attention...I never wanted to do anything else.
T.U.: Tell us about voicing the iconic character of Franklin the Turtle.
N.R.: I read the Franklin books as a kid, and those books are such a big part of Canadian children’s literature, it was so cool to get to be Franklin. I was nine when I started, and I got to miss a day of school a week to go hang out with friends and record a TV show. I still see it on TV every now and then to listen to what I sounded like as a kid.
T.U.: What goes on behind the scenes of a recording? Do you just read from a script or do the episodes evolve in the recording?
N.R.: You read from the script and they do the animation after, which gives you the freedom to change the line if necessary. I've done shows that were the other way around, and you have to match your voice to an animated mouth that is already moving, and it's ridiculously hard.
T.U.: Has your work and years of training in voicing prepared you for the challenges of this film musical?
NR. In a way I feel like I was training for this film all my life. My childhood was spent acting, singing and playing hockey, so this is truly the perfect project for me.
T.U.: In addition to being an actor, you are also an accomplished musician who wrote the music for Parfumerie. Tell us about your music career.
N.R.: Yeah, I missed something on that list of stuff I did as a child. I also play piano. I started when I was 5 and eventually stopped taking classical lessons, because I was avoiding them and not practicing. But I found after I stopped taking lessons, I started to play a lot more, playing along with whatever song was in my head and eventually starting to write. At the Stratford festival last year I picked up an accordion for the first time for a production of Three Sisters and I fell in love with it and wrote the music for Parfumerie for accordion and fiddle.
T.U.: What’s on your ipod now?
N.R.: A lot of Dylan, a lot of Waits, some Wilco, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, and a bunch of old bluesmen.
T.U.: Let’s talk more about Score: A Hockey Musical, which was not only selected for the Toronto International Film Festival but actually opened it! How was your TIFF experience?
N.R.: It was really all packed into a couple of days for me, those being the opening night and the weekend after the opening. I was shooting a pilot for SyFy network called "Three Inches" and had to shoot on every other day. But I had a great time at TIFF while I was there. It was kind of a whirlwind, but I saw some great movies, met some great people and introduced my dad to Ron McLean, which is one of my prouder moments in life.
T.U.: Is this your first one?
N.R.: Yep, first TIFF. Which is shameful because I grew up in Toronto. But a pretty good way to go for the first time.
T.U.: Tell us about working with director Michael McGowan.
N.R.: I would do it again in a second. Such a cool guy. The whole thing is his brainchild, and he has his hands on all the strings, but he's trusting enough to let you do your thing. He told me that if you have the right people for the job, then the job gets done well, and it's awesome to work with a director who is so open to what you want to do with a character.
T.U.: What was the set environment like?
N.R.: Oh man. We played shinny at lunch. Mike's kids were always there; we would go out and watch the Olympic hockey after wrap sometimes; often couldn't get through takes because we were laughing so hard. I've never been on a better set in my life.
T.U.: What did your audition entail?
N.R.: I went in and met Mike and Avi, our producer, read my scenes and sang a song (Stan Rogers "maid on the shore") and then mike asked me if I could skate. And I said yeah, I've been skating all my life. And he was like "yeah we'll see". I feel like he'd been burned before by an actor saying they could just to get the gig, and so we played one on one on an empty pad at UCC and I lost. Mike says I threw the game to get the gig, and I'm prepared to go along with that story.
T.U.: Tell us about your experience with hockey. Did you improve in it during the production?
N.R.: Probably my hands improved. Just trying fancy moves over and over. When I played, I was a defenseman, so my hands were never cultivated in a beauty-goal kind of way. I was nervous about the hockey, but I had so much fun on those days. It's as close to the NHL as I’ll ever get.
T.U.: Did you get to improvise, or were all of the songs written and choreographed beforehand?
N.R.: We recorded the songs the week before we started shooting, and there were a few choreography rehearsals for some of the bigger numbers, but there were times when the actors got to throw in their own tricks, try a different joke or reference. Didn't need much of it, mike's script was already funny.
T.U.: What was it like starring in a musical with a legend like Olivia Newton-John?
N.R.: Pretty unforgettable. Such a nice person to be around, positive and supportive and just interested in making something cool and having a good time. And reducing the carbon footprint. I will never have anything but good things about Olivia.
T.U.: You also performed widely in theatre. How does acting for the stage differ from acting onscreen?
N.R.: I feel like film acting is more controlled, more reduced. On stage, your performance has to reach a whole room of people. On screen, it's more about what you're thinking. And looking good. The audience is so much closer to you, you don't have to project, and often the less you do the better. It's great to get to switch back and forth between them, because they are such different mediums. I haven't had as much experience in front of a camera, but I think it's hard to beat a live audience.
T.U.: Are there any funny stories about the production that you would like to share?
N.R.: The day I met Walter Gretzky, Eddie Shack and Theo Fleury was pretty awesome. All of them had great stories, about the game and everything else. I guess that's not that funny. It was funny for me.
T.U.: Having voiced Franklin and now tackled a musical and, in fact, a hockey musical, what is next for you?
N.R.: Well, I wait and see if "Three Inches" gets picked up, and look for the next thing. I'm also involved in a workshop at the Stratford Festival for a new play.
T.U.: Thank-you so much for your time, Noah!
N.R.: My pleasure, thank you.
© Toronto International Film Festival Group.
Tom Ue: First off, congratulations with Score: A Hockey Musical, which was not only selected for the Toronto International Film Festival, but also opened the festival! Were you nervous about having the film launch a festival that features so many excellent films?
Michael McGowan: Thanks. Of course I was nervous. It’s a big target that’s put on the film’s back to be open the festival. However, the attention that was given to it and the incredible response made it a night to remember. That and the fact that I got to meet Darryl Sittler.
T.U.: What inspired Score?
M.M.: Delusion. Alcohol. Machismo.
T.U.: What made you decide to film a musical?
M.M.: I wanted to try something different and I had used a lot of music in both my previous films, so it seemed like a natural progression. Plus I’m a wannabe rock-and-roll guy who has no musical talent, so this seemed like a way to get in with the cool kids.
T.U.: Making a musical with original songs must be quite a challenge! What happened behind the scenes with the song writing and the choreography?
M.M.: We basically spent months making sure that when we were ready to film, everything was the way we wanted it. That involved many passes at the music, the lyrics and the choreography. There were some bench brawls, tears and shattered egos, but a small price to pay for art.
T.U.: How did you decide when to integrate a number?
M.M.: There just seemed to be a rhythm to when a song should come. It was more intuitive than deciding every six pages or four and a half scenes or something rigid like that.
T.U.: What was it like directing a legend like Olivia Newton-John?
M.M.: Fantastic. She’s rather “un-legend-y” in her everyday demeanour so that made it easy on all of us. Plus she’s loads of fun.
T.U.: In addition to writing and directing features, you also direct TV shows, including an episode of Being Erica. How are the experiences of directing features and shows different?
M.M.: Directing episodic has it’s own stresses, but unlike writing and producing as well as directing which I do on my features, I’m only worried about the directing. It’s a chance to play in a sandbox with established rules and see how you can reinvent and also work within that framework.
T.U.: I saw Saint Ralph a number of years ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. Like Score, it is also about a sporting event, in this case, the teenaged Ralph who trains for the 1954 Boston Marathon in hopes that the impossible victory will wake his mother from a coma. What drives you to film and tell stories about and through sports?
M.M.: There’s so much drama inherent in sports, it naturally lends itself to story-telling.
T.U.: Sport films have almost become a genre of their own. How do you see your work as being different?
M.M.: It’s all about the tone, the voice and the sensibility. Hopefully creating stories that no one else could tell and hopefully that’s what makes them unique.
T.U.: With Saint Ralph, One Week, and now Score, many of your films are shot in Canada. Tell us about filming here.
M.M.: I’m a staunch Canadian. I love this country and find it such a privilege to work with extremely creative and talented actors and crews. Plus the maple syrup is much better in Canada.
T.U.: You also wrote and produced the stop-motion children’s TV show Henry’s World and wrote for the animated series Jacob Two-Two. These experiences cannot be more different from writing for and directing live actors! Tell us about filming for children. They’re surprisingly not all that different. It’s all about trying to tell a good story no matter what length or format you’re working in. Though children have a way shorter attention span and tend not to take me as seriously as I’d like they’re our future, so I work with them.
T.U.: You are also a prolific writer whose articles have appeared in The Globe and Mail, and who authored the novels Newton and the Giant and Newton and the Time Travel Machine.
M.M.: Having worked with stop-motion, authored books, and filmed a musical, what is next for you? I’m working on another script that I hope to shoot next fall. If I can keep the voices inside my head that scream, “you’re a fake! Stop this charade now!” quiet long enough I might just get a draft done.
T.U.: Thank-you so much for your time, Michael, and best of luck in your feature endeavours!
M.M.: Many thanks. Go see the film. It opened October 22nd, 2010. If you don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back.
© Toronto International Film Festival Group.
Tom Ue: Through many avenues, the Toronto International Film Festival continues to foster greater interest in films among the wider community. One such intiative is the Higher Learning series. What are some of your goals for Higher Learning?
Theresa Scandiffio: A primary goal of Higher Learning at TIFF Bell Lightbox is to provide programming and learning resources to university and colleges working in cinema and media. To accomplish this goal, Higher Learning takes advantage of the educational resources at our disposal at TIFF Bell Lightbox, as well as the professional networks we have in the broader local film and media communities at large. The two central ways that educational institution can engage with Higher Learning at TIFF Bell Lightbox are:
Curriculum-based Programmes: On Friday mornings, our learning studios and cinemas are available to faculty members who would like to organize events (e.g. lectures, workshops, panels, and screenings) for their undergraduate and graduate student courses. These programmes need not link directly to TIFF Bell Lightbox programming, but instead are determined by the kinds of curricula being offered by faculty members during the given academic term. When possible, we will provide materials (e.g. DVDs, film prints when available; materials from the Film Reference Library and Special Collections, etc) that help foster optimal learning environments for the students and faculty. We encourage the faculty members to think of a lecture or workshop that would help bring together students, faculty and administrators from a number of different programs and schools in the area.
Guest Speakers: Higher Learning invites local guests as well as those who are in town for programming at TIFF Bell Lightbox or for events at local universities and colleges.
T.U.: Tell us about some of the highlights of the series this fall.
T.S.: It has been an incredible first semester, but for us the strength of the series is that we have brought a number of different programs and schools together to both engage with our guest presenters as well as each other, thereby strengthening our academic community. For instance in our inaugural event (in 2010?) David Cronenberg’s and Ron Sander’s presentation of Videodrome brought together students and faculty from over twelve cinema and media programs from nearby universities and colleges. And Archivist and film scholar, Jacqueline Stewart’s talk on the politics of film preservation brought together students, faculty and archivists from African American studies, photo preservation, history, and cinema studies. Students and faculty members from documentary Masters Programs as well as culinary programs are coming to TIFF Bell Lightbox this Friday December 3rd 2010 for legendary documentarians DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ presentation of their latest documentary, Kings of Pastry.
T.U.: How have students responded to this series?
T.S.: The response has been very positive. Most of the students first attend these events as a group (with their classes), and then return on their own for additional lectures or screenings.
T.U.: Has there been any surprises?
T.S.: I think the biggest surprise for me has been the number of schools that take time out of their very busy schedules to bus in from out of town – London, Belleville, Durham, Niagara, etc, on a regular basis. It is fantastic. We are also always very humbled by the fact that esteemed guests – from DJ Spooky to Tim Burton and Jacqueline Stewart – are very eager to take time out of their busy schedules to work with local students and faculty.
T.U.: Higher Learning has featured a number of excellent filmmakers including directors David Cronenberg and Jacob Tierney. Tell us about the selection process of guests.
T.S.: Higher Learning invites local guests as well as those who are in town for programming at TIFF Bell Lightbox or for events at local universities and colleges. The guests are internationally renowned media experts from a broad spectrum of academic disciplines and professional fields (such as: cinema and media studies, art history, cultural theory, filmmaking, sound engineering, film distribution, gaming and new media programmers, animation, to name a few). We work with the guest speakers to tailor their event to fit the needs and interests of the students and faculty members. They have all been very generous with their time and engaged with the students and faculty. The goal of the events is to give the students and faculty exposure and access to all kinds of experts in the fields of cinema and media. The forum for the events will range from small master classes in one of our learning studios to large lectures and on-stage presentations in one of our cinemas.
T.U.: So far, guests include not only filmmakers but also scholars like Prof. Jacqueline Stewart and musicians like DJ Spooky. Does this initiative reflect TIFF’s efforts to promote interdisciplinary studies in the arts?
T.S.: Absolutely, cinema is in itself an interdisciplinary medium. We are dedicated to examining the intermedial and interdisciplinary role of film, video, new media and gaming from a wide range of artistic, cultural, social, historical, political and technological approaches.
T.U.:. Who might we expect in the coming year?
T.S.: We have a fantastic line up for the Winter and Spring calendars – there is a presentation and screening in conjunction with TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten (see http://tiff.net/topten); Starz Animation is bringing in Artistic Director Kevin Adams for “The Making of 9” (movie or docu?); Africanist Film scholar Aboubakar Sanogo of Carleton University is joining us to do a lecture on the African pioneer filmmakers, The Lumière brothers.
T.U.: How might students follow up on some of the things that they learn in this series?
T.S.: There are a lot of ways they could follow up, but two central ways that comes to mind:
They can use our on-going resources like our Higher Learning programmes, the manuscripts and collections from the Film Reference Library as well as our public screenings to develop and strengthen their course assignments and projects. They can also take advantage of the connections they are making with fellow students and faculty as well as the guest speakers to help them develop their own film/media projects, obtain internships and possibly future employment.
T.U.: What are some of the challenges of putting together this series?
T.S.: Higher Learning has been very successful and we are continuously working to improve it. We are working to ensure that our events supplement and enhance the curriculum of university and college programmes, rather than tax their already full schedules. Also there has been huge interest in our guests, such as Tim Burton and David Cronenberg, to a point that we were not able to accommodate all those requesting to attend.
T.U.: Will this series continue after this school-year?
T.S.: Yes, we are just getting started. Higher Learning programmes and resources will be available every academic year, from September through April.
T.U.: What are some events and workshops that students can sign up for this summer?
T.S.: While our Higher Learning programmes end in late April, students can enjoy our public and film programmes all year long – from the Tim Burton and Mary Pickford exhibitions, to In persons and lectures, we will continue to have events and exhibitions that fulfil our educational mandate.
T.U.: What are some of the other TIFF series that you are working on?
T.S.: We are always working to provide ancillary programming to our Film Programmes and Public Programmes – from lecture series, to workshops and tours at our Film Reference Library. As well as some exciting programming to be announced soon.
T.U.: Thank you for taking time off your busy schedule to talk to MTLS!
Tom Ue is a doctoral student at the Department of English Language and Literature at University College, London, where he researches on Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of Henry James, George Gissing, and Oscar Wilde.
Nostalgia is vicious; at least, it’s vice.
Its hours come contaminated with Loss,
And liquor—a killer (like Rilke)—kicks
The mind into coma—perverse preserve.
MAY, wife, speaks Cantonese (big city – Sang Wai) and English with a Chinese accent, originally from Hong Kong
I was soon to start work on my thesis. I had a job meanwhile, in a small hotel. It was summer. We had five empty rooms, it was a slow season. I suppose that's why the owner gave her the room for forty euros a night. The German couple was paying sixty, they'd also just walked in off the street.
Volunteers for Issue 8
For copy-editing this issue of MTLS thanks:
- Amanda Tripp
- Carmel Purkis
- Rosel Kim
- Julia Cooper
- Lequanne Collins-Bacchus
MTLS is grateful to Jean-Pierre Houde for his hard work on web management.