Being an Executive Producer (EP) is in many ways similar to being a UFC fighter. You put in an insane amount of hours preparing for the microscopic amount of time that the audience actually witnesses the entertainment which you create. You must predict the action which will take place in your mind, envisioning it months or years before it ever takes place. You choose the team of professionals who will hopefully insure your success. Not to be forgotten, you often feel as if you have had every ounce of energy kicked out of you before it is all over. If it sounds hyperbolic to you, a conversation with Miguel Rivas may alleviate this uncertainty. Rivas is well known in his native Canada (the US is now paying a great deal of attention to him) for his writing and acting abilities but, unknown to the public en masse, he has been the EP overseeing many of the productions for which he has become famous. The combination of writing and acting has given him an overview of what is needed and naturally steered him towards the role of EP.
Many often refer to the role of EP as an honorary title given to marquee name actors and actresses to placate these celebrities. While that may exist in some parts of the entertainment world, this scenario has no presence in Canada’s TV and film industry or Miguel’s experiences. Many times, Rivas has been asked to take on this task as someone who has the understanding of what the production needs as a whole. He states, “Being executive producer means ultimate control, but also maximum stress. The whole project rises or sinks based on how you put it together. That means primarily, finding the right people to work with. On ‘Japan’ and ‘Wanda’ (two of the films by comedy troupe Tony Ho), it was paramount to find people who understood our sensibilities as a group. As EP, you have to organize everything and keep multiple plates spinning at once. Independent films can be hard to fund; finding money and support for our voice was the single most important part of being EP on these projects. Once that was in place, it was just about doing every task, however large or menial, with an eye on making the best film you possibly can.” Tony Ho is one of the most established and lauded Canadian comedy groups to perform both live and on film. With a signature dark comedy style, they appeal to a wide audience by tackling the highly stressful situations that many of us face, or hope to never face. Japan won the Grand Prize for best film at the Laugh Sabbath Film Fest at NXNE, while Wanda was also recognized at the same Film Fest. Both films present the stresses that modern professions and love lives have on the average person, with ridiculous…sometimes fatal outcomes. Tony Ho’s Roger Bainbridge (Nolan in Japan) confirms the importance of Miguel as EP for the film, stating, “I was really fortunate to have Miguel as an executive producer on Japan with me. Most Tony Ho films feature just the three of us and maybe 1 or 2 more people but Japan required a large cast and many locations over different days. Miguel did a great job of finding the right people for the job, making sure they were paid well, organizing their schedules, and arranging the shoot days so that we could use the extras efficiently without wasting anyone’s time. Miguel was also key in finding our shoot locations. He did a great job in writing the script for Japan, but the humor comes from the fast pace of the story. We needed lots of locations to make the script work. Miguel used his connections to get us locations that would fit our script and budget. That was the beauty of having Miguel as both writer and executive producer, he turned a complicated script into an easy shoot. We didn’t have to compromise.” Adam Niebergall plays Marty (the recipient of some opportunistic nepotism) in Japan and reinforces Bainbridge’s take on Miguel’s abilities and expertise on Japan. Adam comments, “You can tell Miguel really loves making movies because he’s so calm about it all the time. On Japan there were lots of different people involved; extras, cameramen, transportation people, etc. Everyone went to Miguel to ask questions. He was the one who communicated with everyone, either in person or by phone/text, and everyone trusted what he said. Strong leadership is important on film projects and Miguel inspires confidence in everyone involved. Plus, he’s always nice about it. He never yells at anyone. He’s always more than happy to answer anyone’s questions. You can tell he’s thankful to everyone for helping to make the movie. He knows what he wants to do and accomplish and how to bring out the best in everyone’s work.” Daniel Beirne, the director of Wanda, reiterates, “he had no problem switching from his “actor/writer hat” to his “executive producer” hat. He was respectful of the crew we had there and made sure everyone was ok to keep working or asked if we should take a break. I love working with Miguel because he treats the set as a collective project; even though he was writer, actor and executive producer, everyone was equally important.”
As proof that he is no one-trick-pony, Miguel has applied this same template to music videos for a variety of modern artists. Alt Altman is the solo Toronto musician, Digits. Having toured all over the world, he’s released several successful international singles and albums under various monikers. He’s been shortlisted for the prestigious PRISM prize. Digits sought out Bainbridge because of the multiple strengths that he could bring to a production. The video for “Street Violence” (Named one of the Top 5 videos of the year by Exclaim!, featured on VICE, and MuchMusic) is an epic tale of the downfall of society and one couple’s attempts to evade the gangs who rule the streets. While the gang monikers are often comedic, the action which takes place and the anger that is vented on individuals throughout the course of the video, carries a sobering impact. Digits declares, “It’s Hard not to have only great things to say about Miguel. The cast and crew that he assembled, the storyline, the costumes, and the fact that it was finished in a matter of days…I’m so pleased with the video and the response it has gotten!” Jay McCarrol is a member of the hugely successful band Brave Shores, whose pop song “Never Come Down” was a huge hit. Jay is also one of the minds behind the web series Nirvana: The Band The Show, which had a large premier at TIFF. Rivas produced two videos for Brave Shores, “Never Come Down” (which has amassed nearly 700 thousand views on YouTube and was featured on Silent Shout, MuchMusic and VICE) and “More Like You.” McCarrol refers to Miguel noting, “As an artist, it’s important to have a professional who will listen to your ideas; Miguel is that kind of artist. He made sure Stef (Stefanie McCarrol, sister/bandmate) and I were comfortable with the concepts and took our ideas into consideration during the early phase. I like that he was flexible and fun. He is the best to work with. He also knew how, as producer, to stretch a dollar, which believe me, is needed with music videos.” While “Never Come Down” is upbeat in tone and comedic in action, “More Like You” is somber and introspective in terms of the music as well as the visuals that accompany it in the video. Rivas comments, “The music videos were slightly different as funding was secured beforehand and the task then focuses a little tighter. A major duty when acting as EP is making sure everyone at all levels of the project is happy and involved in the right way. For the Brave Shores music videos, I was the liaison between our projects and Universal Music as well as the band. You have to be level headed and a little political to make sure everything gets done in a way you’re happy with. It can be doubly difficult to occupy other roles (writer, actor, director) while acting as EP, but it offers an ability to control and lead things in a way that I find very satisfying.”
Perhaps what stands out most when considering all the aspects and talents of Miguel Rivas is that he is foremost a conduit for himself as well as others to communicate a story. He might be involved in creating lines, delivering lines, or finding the right people to finance the microphone that captures the lines which someone else is speaking; whatever the vehicle of delivery, Miguel is somewhere in there grinding away because he believes in the art of telling a great story.