Canadian filmmaker Eliza Brownlie has firmly made her mark as a director in Hollywood. A breath of fresh air in the contentious filmmaking landscape, Brownlie has solidified her reputation as a director who tells stories with a unique aesthetic style while exploring social constructs and the human experience of modern life.
Her 2016 surrealist horror film The After Party earned praise from coast to coast in the U.S. garnering a hugely successful festival run with exclusive “invitation-only” screenings at the Sacramento Horror Film Festival in California and the Williamsburg Independent Film Festival in New York.
Directed and written by Brownlie, The After Party follows an aspiring starlet who hopes to break into the Hollywood scene by attending a mysterious, late night party where she quickly discovers a darkness the lurks beneath the glitz and glamour.
With captivating visuals and an intriguing story that leaves audiences wanting more, The After Party is rendered even more interesting thanks to the distinct female lens through which it is filtered.
“I knew I wanted to make something within the horror/thriller genre and set in Hollywood. I had been living there and was interested in the idea of how this beautiful dream world could resemble more of a nightmare when you examine it a little closer,” explains Brownlie.
“I needed a context, so I thought, what more appropriate setting for a surrealist horror film than a private party in the hills. I also needed a protagonist who was naïve to this world and desperate to be a part of it, so, naturally, I decided to make the lead an aspiring starlet. The rest of the story and the characters expanded from there.”
The film’s star Tarryn Lagana, who’s represented by Luber Roklin Entertainment, the same talent agency that represents Disney superstar Dove Cameron and the late Oscar-nominated actor Burt Reynolds, shines on screen. Lagana was also recently signed to Abrams Artists Agency, which represents Finn Wolfhard from the Netflix series Stranger Things.
“Working with Eliza is an incredibly open experience. She loves to communicate with her actors and give them freedom to explore within the scene. Which was great for ‘The After Party’ because it gave me a chance to create the character Simone and ultimately deliver a strong performance,” says Lagana.
“Eliza is a one of a kind director… She has a very specific voice and vision that makes her stand out as one of the greatest filmmakers of her generation… She is what the industry needs right now.”
Well versed in directing projects across various mediums, Brownlie’s resume showcases her impressive flexibility and includes commercial, fashion films, music videos and narrative films, with her collective body of work revealing a highly stylized and dreamy nature that has reinforced her reputation as an auteur. Over the years she has directed numerous captivating and edgy commercials for an impressive list of clients including Dove, Top Expert and Canon.
In the fashion film she directed for Top Expert featuring model Breanna Box, she captures her subject with slow camera movements, creating a sultry, relaxed vibe that makes us want to dress ourselves in all of the company’s luxury basics. Brownlie effortlessly pulls us into the ethereal worlds she paints in many of her fashion films with a unique style that is simply unforgettable.A dynamic director, another powerful aspect of her directorial prowess that has set her apart and led her to become a sought after director for more human-interest style commercial pieces is her talent for eliciting raw and vulnerable emotions from her subjects and revealing them with a rare form of elegance. As the director of the docu-style commercial series ‘Imperfectionists’ for Dove’s Self-Esteem Project, and Canon’s Female Hero series, Brownlie captures the women on screen in a way that is captivating, relatable and empowering.
“I like projects that challenge or engage the viewer in an interesting way. Something in the material needs to resonate with me. There’s nothing more painful than working on something you don’t have any passion for,” says Brownlie.
From the extensive repertoire of work that she has released to date it is clear that Brownlie is passionate about her subjects. She is definitely one contemporary female filmmaker that has made a powerful mark in both Hollywood and on a global scale, and she’s one that we will continue to look towards for inspiration.
Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Kegan Sant moved to Canada at just six months old. Growing up just outside of Toronto, Sant was constantly drawn to filmmaking. He has worked in varying capacities on set since he was only a teenager and enjoys shooting photography to keep the creative juices flowing. While trying out the many roles that a film set offers, there was one that spoke to him, and he ultimately decided there was only one option: he was meant to be a producer.
“As I worked through the different roles on set, I realized that my skill set led more heavily towards the management and overall execution of a project. I’m a big believer in knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and always playing to your strengths; in this case, it set me down a path of working in production and ultimately producing. Being a professional comes with the job description and something I pride myself in – running sets with integrity and calm amidst the chaos,” said Sant.
Throughout his esteemed career, Sant has worked mostly in the commercial sector primarily dealing with advertising agencies to make commercials for brands. This includes large companies such as WestJet, Woods, the CFL, and TELUS. Each and every commercial he has taken on has received national recognition in some capacity, exemplifying just what makes Sant so formidable. However, his talents are not just limited to commercials, and his track record with films is no different.
In 2015, Sant began working on The Bear. Isolated, exhausted, alone: the dramatic thriller follows three miners in a remote Yukon mining camp in Canada’s far north who swap tall tales that lead to a violent showdown with the camp’s bitter owner. Part story of man in the wilderness, part neo-noir, The Bear takes the audience into the Canadian ‘heart of darkness’.
“I think this was an important Canadian story to tell and describes an environment that not many people think about but is a reality for many miners. I liked it because it was loosely based off someone the director had met working on a documentary many years ago and it allowed for different departments to flex their creative muscles. Being able to cast the characters the director had envisioned made the story come to life that much more for me,” said Sant.
After premiering at the 2015 Fort McMurray International Film Festival, where it won for ‘Best Direction’ and ‘Best Cinematography’, The Bear went on to several other prestigious film festivals around the world. It was also an Official Selection at the Yellowknife International Film Festival, Toronto International Short Film Festival, Edinburgh Short Film Festival, Atlantic Film Festival and Austin Short Film Fest. In 2017, it was then acquired by an online VOD distributor.
“I’m proud to know that the film has been so successful and screened around the world. It means that all the hard work myself and the crew put in, was worth it. It impresses me when I think about how many films are made all over the world and what the competition is like in festival screeners these days,” said Sant.
Sant was the team’s first choice for the producer of their film. Long Format Director, Warren Sonoda, knew Sant’s reputation for being able to assemble great crews and bring a high level of production value to the project. When the Director of the film, Peter Findlay talked with Sant about the project’s merits and goals, he felt at ease that Sant was the one who could make his first narrative project come to life.
Although he works on commercials more frequently, Sant knew he wanted to work on The Bear the moment he read the script. He was happy with the team, and admired Findlay’s commitment to the story. He couldn’t pass up the opportunity to help bring the project to life.
“I had the good fortune to work with Kegan as my producer on my award-winning film The Bear. I found Kegan to be extremely professional, creative, and always working calmly behind the scenes in the best interests of the production. What makes Kegan such an asset is that he has the steely focus it takes to deliver on time and on budget – and he also just flat-out loves telling stories. A great compromise between the art and business of filmmaking,” said Findlay.
When shooting, Sant and his team worked outdoors in a remote location. He extensively prepped, knowing that once out there, it would be difficult to change anything. Sant had to build a miner’s camp set from scratch and work with the Director of Photography to find lenses that worked to help it appear that the film was shot in the Yukon rather than rural Ontario.
On top of this, he also offered the director multiple options and a chance to exercise his creativity. Sant wanted to let Findlay feel like he wasn’t rushed, knowing the importance of allowing a director the freedom and flexibility to feel comfortable with their process. Findlay had no prior experience in the narrative world. He didn’t have the crew contacts or resources to bring the project to life in a way that it needed to be produced. Sant was able to introduce him to the right key crew for the job, specifically the cinematographer and production designer.
“I enjoyed working with an experienced director that came from a different world of storytelling – it was enlightening to see the differences in process and to learn from it as well. I could learn from him and likewise, he could learn from me. It was a great working relationship and I was able to hire the best crew for the job, giving some crew opportunities that they hadn’t had before to help build their reel and portfolio, in addition to creating a short on a cool subject,” said Sant.
The Bear is just one of Sant’s many successful films, and he looks forward to working on more in the near future. He is an extremely versatile producer and is constantly adapting to be successful. Audiences can continue to expect great things from him, and for those looking to follow in his footsteps, he offers insightful advice.
“I would tell aspiring producers that they need to get their hands dirty. Producing is not a glamorous job, but it is fulfilling. Work in a variety of capacities on set and make sure that production is what you want. Production manage before you produce; it will help you understand the crew and different departments and needs versus wants. Know your strengths and weaknesses; it will determine whether producing is for you or not. You have to have a thick skin…you will face much rejection in your life if you choose producing as a career path. You must learn to be empathetic, as you will be the boss of an eclectic group of professionals. They will have their quirks, they will have wildly different personalities and you’ll have to learn how to manage them, understand them and realize what you as a producer are willing and able to handle and what you are not. There are many production companies and crews in the industry – if one or two don’t work out, it doesn’t mean you should give up. Perseverance is key – it is the defining difference between you and everyone else who is not a producer,” he advised.
Pictured left to right: Kegan Sant, Peter Findlay, Rob Comeau on set of “The Bear”, photo by Stephanie Langzik
There is one thing about her that shines above all else: she is an entertainer. She is extremely multi-talented, and uses her writing and acting skills to captivate audiences around the world, whether through film, YouTube, or various social media platforms. There is truly no limit to what she can accomplish.
Ellam has tens of thousands of followers on her Instagram, with a strong impact on Twitter as well, and as an influencer has helped many companies and shows gain a following and audience. Working with AwesomenessTV, both her writing and influencing skills have boosted the show to have millions of views. With the extremely popular app, the ArsenicTV Snapchat story gets over 500,000 views daily, and as a host and influencer for the show, Ellam is a large part of that. However, it was with the film The Woods where Ellam’s impressive natural writing talents became truly evident to worldwide audiences.
“Relationships between siblings can be complicated, especially if they’re teenagers. I wanted to show why the older sister in the film was so angry, because this is a common conflict between sisters,” said Ellam.
The Woods tells the story of two sisters at a party, who get lost in the woods while leaving. The film is about two sisters who get lost in the woods while leaving a party. They quickly realize they’re lost and will have to work together to get out, and push through the fighting and angst between them.
“I wanted to do something simple: two characters, one location,” Ellam described. “The sisters’ relationship is based on my sisters and my relationship.”
Ellam wrote the film entirely by herself. Originally, she wanted to experiment with her writing and work on a project that her friends could be a part of. She wrote the script while trying to think of the simplest way to make a short, but the story developed the more she wrote.
“The story is all dialogue driven which is a fun challenge for me as a writer. I also ended up directing it, which is something I’m not familiar with but my team believed in me, and I did know the script and the vision, so I hope the viewers can see it too,” she said.
Viewers definitely see the vision. The film has gone on to be shown at several prestigious international film festivals. After premiering at the UK Monthly Film Festival, Ellam won the new filmmakers award at the Mediterranean Film Festival (MedFF). It also was just selected as a semi-finalist for the Miami Epic Trailer Festival.
“It’s a really amazing feeling that the film has been so well-received. It’s one thing to write something that people like ,but actually making it and still having people want to watch it is really cool. I know that sounds weird to say, but we did this on a very small budget with only one shooting day. It’s nerve racking because if something doesn’t work it’s almost like you can’t redo it. I’m glad people think we were able to do a good job. It’s had to get your vision across so I’m glad people saw what we were going for,” Ellam said.
All those that worked with Ellam on the film immediately saw that she was an extraordinary writer, and all of the success that the film has received could never have been possible without the vision and talent she brought with her. Maxwell Peters, a Los Angeles based Screenwriter, Director, and Producer, produced The Woods. He says her commitment to the film made it the success that is it.
“Over the course of the past two years I’ve worked with Anja on multiple projects. Most recently I produced her short film The Woods, which she wrote and directed. Anja is easy to work with and had a firm grasp on what she was doing. She worked with her actors with ease and was able to get wonderful performances out of all of them, aside from that she was able to work with crew in an effective and efficient manner,” said Peters.
Even without all the accolades and awards, the experience of writing The Woods was unforgettable for Ellam. She knew what she wanted to do from the beginning, and using her creativity, she was able to make something unforgettable for audiences as well. The film even has a twist ending, which was just plain fun for Ellam to write.
“I liked writing the ending the best. I didn’t know how I was going to end it at first, but I knew I wanted it to be unexpected. I had a lot of fun experimenting with different ending options,” said Ellam. “I took this ending honestly because I think happy endings are boring. I considered having them not make it out but I thought leaving it a little more open ended was a bit more surprising. I love twist endings.”
Be sure to check out what happens to the two sisters by seeing Ellam’s fabulous work in The Woods.
Ever since Ron Grebler was a child, he knew he wanted to direct for the big and small screen. Growing up in Toronto, Canada, he loved watching movies. He always enjoyed being transported to a new world through a film, with each image impacting his emotions. When he would watch, he felt fully engaged, and knew from early on that he wanted to be a cinematic storyteller. Now, he is a top Director and Producer in Canada.
While working with AXE and “Canada’s MTV’s MuchMusic”, Grebler helped take a revolutionary advertisement to the next level. Promoting AXE Hair Products, Grebler produced and directed a series of branded videos for the network’s “Spring Break Special.” The first of its kind on the network, three segments were seamlessly integrated into the hugely successful special to look like programming, not commercials.
“It was flattering to be chosen to work on a new concept of content with such an entertaining and iconic brand. As a commercial and branded content producer and director, it’s a rare opportunity to be asked to launch a new product for a successful brand. AXE was known for its body sprays and very entertaining commercial spots. When they were launching their first line of hair care products it was hard not to jump at the opportunity,” said Grebler.
What made the project fun for Grebler was the “hidden camera” aspect of the commercial. Part of the videos featured the main talent of the commercial asking vacationers questions about his hair, and the unsuspecting vacationers were unaware they were being filmed. This created a fun energy that was maintained throughout the three videos.
“It’s easy to work with Ron. He genuinely loves the craft of producing and directing and wants to put as much as possible into every commercial. We continually chose Ron because of his reliability, professionalism and his creative style. He was a ‘one stop shop’ for production, and we were confident that the final product would be engaging and of high quality. He has a producer/director’s ‘personality’. He’s creative and quick thinking, clear-headed, and dedicated to crafting the best programming possible with the budgets he’s given,” said Randall Graham, the Creative Director of Brand Partnerships and Commercial Production at Bell Media.
The campaign went on to be a large success for both AXE and MuchMusic. Despite the challenges that arose from shooting in Cancun, Mexico, the most popular Spring Break vacation destination, Grebler rose to the occasion. Without him, the campaign could not have achieved what it did.
“Working with Ron is often a fast paced and well thought out environment. Ron is always determined to exceed the expectations of his clients which often means maximizing every available minute. Being in a foreign country with limited tools at our disposal outside of what we brought allowed Ron and crew to think and operate outside of the box yet maintain high standards of production. Working with Ron is, at its core a job but also a classroom. Ron is a vast vault of production and creative knowledge which he is happy and eager to share. In all my years of knowing Ron, he’s always had the mentality that learning never stops and teaching others is always an available opportunity. Ron is always encouraging, positive and motivational on set which makes the complicated and sometimes unpredictable production days not just manageable but fun as well,” said KJ Fuhrman, the Production Coordinator of the campaign.
Grebler is known for his outstanding and memorable commercials. In addition to the AXE campaign with Much, he recently worked on a group of national commercials for Belair Direct. The campaign was seen by millions of viewers across Canada and was highly successful for both Belair Direct and Grebler.
“Working on a commercial of this magnitude was a lot like juggling 300 hundred balls at once. There were so many little details, all time-oriented and interconnected, and if one falls, the others fall too. It was crazy but it was fun,” said Grebler. “There’s also that satisfying feeling of turning on the TV and seeing the spot I worked on for 3 months appear on different major networks. It’s also cute when my mom and dad call me to say they saw my spot on TV.”
Working with FUJI, Grebler reached an even bigger audience than Canada, as his advertisements were seen all around the world. Working as the director for the campaign, Grebler created two separate commercials, one for national television, and the other for internet use.
“It was an intense, short project that necessitated a lot of focus and particular attention to detail. I was strongly involved in the pre-production and production design, especially when it came to sourcing props and building sets. I was very hands on because for both the agency and client, the overall look of the set was extremely important. Since the concept included having a hand built craft to be used as a ‘hero’ prop, I specifically chose the artist to construct it and oversaw and approved the construction and color scheme,” said Grebler.
The decisions that Grebler made for the commercials led them to be immensely successful. FUJI then decided to launch the commercials in Japan, and are considering a roll out to other international markets.
“Ron brings a fresh creative perspective as well as a lot of focused energy, enthusiasm and organization to every project. He has a depth of experience across many different brand categories and demographics and knows how to make every video unique, visually appealing and successful in its goal. He excels at translating the agency creative and client brief and crafting it into engaging video content that will keep consumers and audiences tuned in … and that’s the whole point of a commercial,” said Rebecca Hamilton, Chief Executive Officer Fish Out of Water Design, the agency that created the commercials.
Grebler’s reputation of being extremely thorough while working extremely quickly make him extremely sought-after not only in Canada, but internationally as well. He is truly exceptional at what he does, and his passion for what he does shows in every project he works on.
Since breaking onto the scene in 2008 with a win as Best Writer at the Vancouver 48 Hour Film Festival, Thomas Pound has written, created, and produced some of the most groundbreaking TV series and films to date.
Tenacity and persistence are vital to make it as a working writer and/or producer in the entertainment industry, and Pound has certainly exhibited both qualities in droves with the projects he’s brought to the screen. In the early stages of his career, immersing himself in the writing process and building experience were his primary goals, something he achieved in 2008 with Universal’s third installment of the cult classic Slap Shot, Slap Shot 3: The Junior League.
In 2010, Pound went on to write, direct, and produce the film The Wilderness Within, which earned him a Silver Ace Award the following year at the Las Vegas Film Festival.
On a hot streak, there was no stopping Pound as he continued to write feature films including Anomalies, The Cold, and Nextworld until he landed his first television series Motive. Working with an established writer and executive producer like Dennis Heaton (Fido, Call Me Fitz) helped give Pound the confidence to evolve his craft and provided audience members with a deeper look into the show’s main characters, and by dong so Pound, and the Motive team, received a Canadian Screen Award’s nomination for Best Dramatic Series in 2014.
Following ABC’s Motive, Pound took on the hefty task of re-writing and executive producing the horror film Torment, with only six weeks before shooting. He ended up doing major rewrites on the script and eventually came up with a new story and screenplay in just three days, which is a major feat, and one that Pound claims he will never attempt again but definitely well worth it since the film premiered at Los Angeles Screamfest.
The next couple of years proved to be very busy yet successful ones for the Calgary, Alberta native as Pound went on to write, create, and produce his most challenging TV series to date, Rookie Blue. On Rookie Blue, Pound acted as executive story editor in addition to his usual duties as a writer.
He is currently in the process of developing two new one hour drama series for Canadian TV: The Brick and The Faculty. Both shows are currently in production and are slated for a 2016 release date.
Where are you from and what was it like growing up there?
TP: I grew up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It was like growing up in a giant small town. The people there are salt of the earth and humble. The town is victim to subzero winters and urban sprawl, which has resulted in the people bonding much tighter and becoming much warmer than many other cities I’ve spent time in. At the time, I likely would have said the town was too quiet and too wholesome. Only since leaving have I realized the rest of the world could use a little more wholesome.
How have your early experiences influenced some of the work you create today?
TP: Everything I create today goes back to my roots. Growing up in the prairies instilled a strong sense of community, family, and wholesome living. The Brick started as a love letter to the prairies. Witnessing a small town I would spend summers in, Brooks Alberta, become hit with big box-stores and chain corporations changed the simple small town memories I had from childhood. This town was no longer what I remembered. Knowing the people from that small town and their polarizing opinions on what this means for their way of life, it was an easy creative leap to build a fictional world using this prairie touchstone. Peppering in the organized crime elements was creative freedom and no reflection of Brooks Alberta to my knowledge. The Brick became my attempt to reclaim the small Alberta town I remember fondly spending summers at the lake in.
When and how did you get into the industry as a screenwriter?
TP: I moved to Vancouver, BC immediately after high school to attend Vancouver Film School and study Film Production. I started writing feature screenplays on my own time, trying to better understand story and how to manipulate it. It was the series Lost which sparked my interest in television. I also worked in the industry as an assistant in every capacity for four years following film school.
Relocating to Toronto, Ontario was the first step towards making a concentrated focus to write full time. The few working writers I did know lived there and the executives who could hire me had offices there, so I had to move. There’s something to be said about persistence, because that’s all I shelled out for two years. Writing spec script after spec script, I knocked on doors of producers, agents, broadcasters, to learn who was being read and what projects were coming up. Eventually, pilots I wrote found homes: Anomalies was first sold to Gearshift films, and a short while later The Faculty found its home at The Nightingale Company. The relationship with Gearshift Films presented an opportunity to co-writer and executive produce a horror film they had in the works, which turned out to be Torment. Through the effort of simply trying to meet people, I suddenly had a produced feature under my belt. That same year, I was hired on as a writer for the CTV series Motive, and where I was able to co-write my first produced hour of television with Dennis Heaton. After that year with Torment and Motive, I felt comfortable introducing myself to strangers as a writer.
What kind of audience do you generally write for, and why are you passionate about writing stories for this audience?
TP: I try to write stories anyone can enjoy. I’ve always enjoyed commercial feature films and television, and enjoy delivering material which can reach the widest audience possible. That being said, every story I write has to have a human heart, an emotional anchor anyone can relate with or connect to. Whether it’s a sweeping science fiction epic or an ensemble character drama, I strive to find the heart at the core of every story, giving the audience something tangible to latch onto and pull them into the piece. I approach every story I write with the same simple question: “What would I want to feel?” The answer can be excitement, of heartbreak, or inspiration, but it always comes from a place within of what I want to feel. If I can tap into that emotion, I hope it is translated on the page and the audience feels that same sensation. That’s the beauty of television and film, the journey and triggering of emotions to audiences all over the world.
Can you tell us a little bit about some of the projects you’ve written for film and television?
TP: I was fortunate to be brought onto the horror film Torment when it was very close to start filming. There was a script, which was to be shot in six weeks, and it needed a lot of work done on the project. I was inspired by what the filmmaker, Jordan Barker, wanted to do with the film, but the existing script didn’t provide. We met in his office on a Wednesday and spent two days locked away reworking the entire story from page one. Once we had a new story and shape for the film we wanted to make, I went away and wrote the first draft of the screenplay in three days. The quick turnaround is not common, nor would I attempt or offer it again. However, with the deadline of filming starting within weeks, we needed a script to work off of. We were rewriting large chunks of the story as the weeks wore down to the start of principal photography, often turning around entire new drafts of the script within a day or two. It was an intense process, which left me feeling like my head was spinning. When filming finally began, I recall standing on set in awe. This was my first ever produced script, and dozens of people were committing incredible effort and time to make it real. I imagined a car blowing up and typed it on my computer in my tiny apartment, and now I was on location watching the flames grow and feeling the wave of heat from the vehicle engulfed in flames. Those lost weekends and evenings were worth it. Torment was my first produced film, which I also executive produced. It confirmed what I already knew: I’m in this for life.
Motive was the first series I ever wrote for. When I moved away from Vancouver to Toronto in pursuit of a writing career, I told friends I’d return one day with a show. The joke amongst us is that I had to move to Toronto to get a job in Vancouver. Low and behold, some years later, it finally happened. Working under Dennis Heaton on Motive was invaluable. He let me hit the ground running, co-writing my first episode of broadcast television with him: “Kiss of Death”. This was another case of being under the pressure of schedule. We spent weekends locked away together working out the beats of our story, a similar experience to Torment. We wanted to do something different with the show and take a deeper look into our killer’s point of view, experiencing his own hallucinations when we learn he’s been poisoned. This seems like an easy task, however, the show had never done something like this and with Dennis’ leadership, we were able to craft a story, which sold the emotion of the moment, bringing it to screen.
On my second year, I was able to write an episode I’m deeply proud of – “The Glass House”. The idea of this episode had been brewing since my first year on Motive. It started with a very simple emotional anchor “A Father trying to get his daughter back”. I didn’t know the story, I didn’t know the character, all I knew was the core emotional drive, and it was what I constantly went back to in crafting the story. I was given tremendous freedom on Motive to tell the story I wanted. I believe this came from always servicing the emotion of the story first.
You’ve also produced some of these projects, is that correct? Can you tell us a little bit about the projects you’ve both written and produced and how tackling both jobs draws upon your different skill sets?
TP: With Torment, I was also the executive producer on the film. In writing, you rely on the ether of imagination, allowing the story and characters take you wherever they need to go. As we were counting down to the start of shooting on Torment, my role as producer on the project involved constant collaboration with the production. If we lost a location, I would have to find a creative solution in the screenplay to make the new one work. I would work closely with every department to develop the ideas of how a particular action sequence would play out, knowing they wouldn’t get the new script for several days, but they still needed to move forward in prep. It was a constant juggling of guiding production concerns as the script changed and vice versa. You have to be malleable and see how things can shift if circumstances change on a film. Things will seldom go how you planned on a film, writing and producing to those changes is an essential skill set.
Do you prefer to produce the projects you write?
TP: When given the opportunity, I prefer to produce the projects I write. I love the entire process of putting a television or feature project together. I have tremendous admiration of every department that it takes to pull off such an incredible feat. By producing the project I write, it gives me a chance to work as closely as possible with every department and collaborate our ideas. Producing something you write gives you, and the entire team, the opportunity to have constant transparency as to why a particular action or moment plays out a specific way. While production issues will arise, as the writer and producer, I can offer creative solutions, which maintain the sanctity of the story, yet allow us to film what needs to be filmed.
You’ve also been called in as a story editor on projects like the TV series Rookie Blue, and Motive—can you tell us about how your role as the story editor on these projects differ from others where you have been the main writer? How much influence do you have over the story in these cases?
TP: The difference between being the main writer and a story editor is that as a story editor, it is your job to fulfill the show runner’s vision of the show. On Motive, I would have countless meetings with Dennis Heaton to fully understand the big picture story he wanted to tell in the series. Once I understood his intentions, I would be able to craft my writing and my episodes to facilitate that particular vision. The same can be said for Rookie Blue, where I can bring my ideas to the table, but they ultimately must facilitate what the show runner wants to do with the characters. It’s a vital role in aiding to bring the voice of the series to the surface as easily as possible. I have a great deal of influence on the stories in these cases; however it’s an incredibly collaborative process. I may bring my seed of an idea to the show runner, and it may inspire him to take the story in a new direction. Together, we will arrive at an entirely new story. It’s still my job to write it, and it was birthed through collaboration, however as long as it serves the show, it is fulfilling its purpose.
From your perspective as screenwriter, what are some of the differences between writing for television and writing a screenplay for a film?
TP: One of the greatest differences between writing for television and writing for film is the pace. Television is a marathon. As soon as the gun fires and you’re off to the races, you’re cranking out story after story with the writing team and shooting a new episode every eight business days. It’s easy to drop the ball, but it’s an incredibly rewarding journey, which can create incredible partnerships with your colleagues. Feature films are much slower to produce and thus the writing can take quite a while as well. In features, you’re ideally writing about the characters most interesting day in his entire life. In television, every day has to be the characters most interesting day. You can concentrate a core theme or message much more succinctly in film; however you can build much broader and complex worlds in television.
Do you have a preference for one or other?
TP: I prefer the collaboration of television, writing with a team and building an entire world on a television landscape. However, I do love the intimacy of writing a personal screenplay and shepherding it through production on your own. I prefer whichever story idea more personally resonates with my soul.
What made you choose to participate in the projects you’ve done over the course of your career?
TP: In many ways, the project chose me. I have had the luxury of knowing talented individuals in film and television, and as soon as the windows opened to work together on their projects I leaped at the opportunity. For Motive, it was an incredible chance to work with Dennis Heaton, and join a show that expertly delves into the psychology of what drives an average person to become a murderer. I love studying psychology and this was a chance to look at the human condition on a deeper level. With Rookie Blue, the opportunity came to join the team of an already established series which I was a fan of. I believe writing should always be a fun experience, even when you’re writing about dark stories. Rookie Blue was an opportunity to play with wonderful relationship dynamics and romances on screen which I hadn’t done before. It became a wonderful experience which sought me out.
What have been a few of your favorite projects so far and why?
TP:Motive truly gave me my first opportunity in television. For that, I will always look back fondly on the project. I have remained near and dear to many of my colleagues on that series and became a part of a series I am incredibly proud of. Torment was a project which turned out far better than I could have imagined, through an experience that was incredibly draining and intense. I never imagined it would premiere in Los Angeles Screamfest, or be sold internationally in theaters. For this, I walked away with a tremendous amount of pride for what we accomplished together.
What has been your most challenging project and why?
TP: The most challenging project to date was Torment, primarily because of the timeline to write the entire screenplay when we were only several weeks out from filming. It was a real “sink or swim” scenario in many ways. With new information of casting issues, location changes, schedule shifts, coming in every day, the script was a constant moving target, at times to an overwhelming extent. In the end, we brought it together in a wonderful way and I have walked away with pride for what we did. It was a great lesson that the most challenging experiences can also be the most rewarding.
Can you tell us about some of the awards you’ve received over the course of your career and what you won them for?
TP: I was fortunate to win the Silver Ace Award from the Las Vegas Film Festival in 2011 for writing and directing my short film The Wilderness Within. It was a gratifying achievement for a project I solely wrote, directed, and produced on my own. I was also a part of the Motive team when we were nominated for the Canadian Screen Award for Best Dramatic Series in 2014. Seeing the season I worked on being honored with a nomination was a tremendous achievement.
Out of all of your awards so far, which one has meant the most to you personally?
TP: The Silver Ace Award means the world to me as it was the first award I received for bringing together a project that only exists because of the kind efforts of those who believed in me. I believe it’s important to remember where you started out, and this award embodies the person I was before ever getting the chance to make movies or television.
What projects do you have coming up?
TP: I have been currently developing two new series for broadcasters in Canada. The Brick is a one hour drama for TMN with Bell Media, geared to be one of their first original cable one hour dramas. It is a series about a fictional small prairie town, simple and untouched by big box stores of today, and what happens when a major city crime organization aims to turn this town into their new home base, and how the hardware store owner decided to take a stand. He’ll create his own mob to fight the big city mob. I have been developing this project with Bell Media and Pier 21 in Toronto since the summer of 2015, and aim to have an announcement early 2016 on the predicted release.
I am also continuing to develop The Faculty, a one hour drama series for Shaw Cable. The series is about life following a school shooting in a small prairie town, and how the faculty members return to work and strive to pick the pieces up and transcend tragedy through hope. We have been developing the series for a year, and aim to bring it out into American markets in early 2016.
As a screenwriter, where do you get your inspiration for the projects you create?
TP: As a screenwriter, I take as much inspiration as possible from my own life. Whether it be a particular experience or a specific relationship in my life, I always start inwards. If I can connect with a specific emotion I feel in relation to a story I would like to tell, I can build a script from there. I am always able to return to that place within me where it originated from. It’s as close to a “method’ approach to writing as one can get.
What do you hope to achieve with the projects you create?
TP: Ultimately, I simply want my audience to connect with the projects I create. If they are able to connect and feel the specific emotion I felt when writing it, that’s a pretty incredible journey. In anything I create, I hope there is always a personal honesty and deep truth which resonates to anyone, no matter what their background.
Why are you passionate about working as a screenwriter?
TP: I believe stories unite mankind. Films and television travel all around the world and leave immense cultural wakes, and soaring ripple affects through time. Stories challenge the way we think and how we communicate. Films and television have the ability to bring honesty and truth to an audience who may shy away or be unaware of it in their own lives. At the simple core of it, a story can help them escape and relive the sense of wonder we’ve all had at one point in our lives. My passion for screenwriting comes directly from the drive to share the wonder I have for the human experience. If I can find a way to share those stories in an entertaining way, then I’ve done my job.
Do you think you’ll stick to writing TV shows or is there another area of screenwriting you’d like to explore?
TP: I’ll absolutely stick to writing television, however I’d love to expand on the breadth of the TV I work with. I would love to be writing multiple television series as well as feature films at the same time. Of course I can only write so much, but the passion and ability to work with other writers, and find the stories they’re passionate about drives me. I’d love to explore an avenue of producing other material and using my experience to bring it to the screen and share their stories.
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