Youngster at the Festival
The Vancouver International Film Festival runs until October 14th this year and will screen nearly 400 films from seventy-five countries. Eighty films are Canadian, selected from over 700 entries. There will be about 150 thousand admissions.
Leading into the film festival proper was the twenty-sixth annual $115 Film + TV Forum, a four-day series of conferences with 1200 delegates in attendance. From September 27th to 30th, panels featured studio executives and screenwriters like Academy Award winner Michael Arndt of Little Miss Sunshine and Toy Story 3 fame.
Friday, September 29th was both “TV Day” and the opening of the Film Festival itself, as people lined up around the block to see opening-day films like the high-profile The Skin I Live In starring Antonio Banderas and written-produced-directed by Pedro Almodóvar, the most internationally acclaimed Spanish director of our time, a two-time Academy Award winner, best known for All About My Mother, Talk to Her and Volver.
The screening of The Skin I Live In was particularly the source of moviegoers’ angst, as the VIFF failed to streamline the admissions process with an unnecessarily-convoluted online ticketing process. Those who prepaid online had to line up around the block to pick up their physical tickets at will call, after which they had to stand (outside in the rain) in a separate line that went around the other end of the block. “It’s time to get to the twenty-first century,” said one snarky cinema lover. Although VIFF officials delayed the start of the movie for fifteen minutes, people were still entering the theatre after the movie began, prompting some to cut their losses and head home. “I don’t want to miss the first part of the movie,” explained second-year UBC music student Thomas Weideman.
Back at TV Day, names like Graham Yost and Allen Coulter were on hand to share their knowledge. Yost is currently known for developing an Elmore Leonard short story for television as the critically-acclaimed modern-day western Justified, having previously won an Emmy for his work on HBO’s The Pacific miniseries, a follow-up to 2001’s Band of Brothers war epic that he also worked on in collaboration with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.
The first panel of the day was “Co-Venturing with the U.S.”, which discussed how the expansion of cable television—you have 500 channels; your parents grew up with five—has diluted ratings for networks individually across the board and they are now looking for cheaper alternatives to traditional production of series. Following the writers’ strike in 2008, CBS purchased the rights for Canadian drama Flashpoint on CTV and it became the first Canadian series since the 1990s to air on a major American broadcast network in primetime. While it was never a huge hit due south, its ratings were respectable and it was extremely cost-effective, as CBS paid only partial production fees, not to mention that Canadian shows have much lower production costs, anyway. This model was replicated a handful of times over the last few years, most notably with ABC/Global’s Rookie Blue.
The next two panels discussed writing for television with professionals from both sides of the border. The primary difference is that things are smaller in Canada. Up here, a writers’ room will have three to five people, whereas there are typically at least staff writers on a team in the States. The Canadian writer stressed that if you want to work in Hollywood, you need to have an American passport if you wish to be considered.
The last panel of the day was a directing master class with Allen Coulter. One of quality cable television’s most prolific directors, a seven-time Emmy nominee best known for his work on The Sopranos, Coulter is now widely sought after to direct pilots in order to set a high bar for the visual style for a series, with the premieres of Damages, Nurse Jackie, Sons of Anarchy, Law & Order: LA and Rubicon to his credit from 2007 to 2010. The work of a television director is much less obvious than that of a film director, as they vary episode-to-episode and shows never look that different. But Allen Coulter is doing his work and was extremely interesting. He spoke about avoiding gimmick filming techniques—unless the script sucks, at which point, he yells to “bring out the circular track!”—and creating drama in a scene by holding back information through restrictive camera angles. He also does his best to limit camera cuts because he feels that it removes the audience from the action just a bit each time. Finally, he spoke about difficult actors, whom he directs by telling other actors what should happen in a scene while the problem actors are within earshot.
— Riley Chow