Extreme filmmaking: TWU students break into Vancouver industry

Under the direction of film professor Ned Vankevich, PhD, students Tyson Gibbons, Gareth Griffiths, Tommi Lintinen, Simon Poultney and Leighton Sawatsky, teamed up with two local actors to take part in Vancouver’s third annual 24-hour film contest entitled, The Good, the Bad, and the Melancholy. The crash-course in filmmaking had TWU students competing against professionals filmmakers the Vancouver industry.

Beginning downtown at Joe’s Café, 225 novice and experienced filmmakers gathered at 10:00 am to race against time and create a short film, no more than five minutes long. Upon arrival, the groups received instruction on the specific story elements to be included in their film—information kept secret until the contest morning. Each film was required contain the following: a bale of hay, a narrative genre, one of four music clips selected from local artists, three characters—the good, the bad and the melancholy—and the phrase, “today, nothing is going to hold me back.”

And nothing held TWU students back.

“When I pitched the idea of entering to my top senior students,” recalls Vankevich “they were so excited that they jumped right in with massive amounts of passion. On film day there was great synergy—everyone dug in and did their fair share. It’s a difficult process. We have 24 hours to come up with a story, and then basically rehearse it, shoot it, and edit it down to five minutes or less.”

Before coming to TWU four years ago, Vankevich, spent ten years in the film and television industry working on commercials, animated films, short documentaries.
And though technically he’s the producer of the film entry, he notes it’s the students who were involved in every part of the process.

“They worked on the shooting, editing, sound, art, decoration, make-up, special effects and props,” says the Communications professor who has both written and directed. “Everything you see on screen they were responsible for.” And despite the limited time-frame, two students even managed to compose original music for the film.

Opting to shoot in Langley, the filmmakers used a view of Golden Ears as the thematic focal point. According to the group, the outdoor setting lent itself to the story. “Ashley Park’s music clip deals with loss, so we decided to integrate that into the story,” says Vankevich. “Essentially, the story is about a young man who loses the love of his life and must fight the demons of bitterness and anger. I think our piece will be the more profound and thematically rich entry because we chose a very heavy theme.” Vankevich explains that the group used flashbacks of the couple’s relationship to show the young man’s current emptiness without the love of his life, and concluded with an intense climax in which the character finds hope—all in five minutes.

To help in the filmmaking process, TWU students made use of their “film toys”: a crane, a steady cam, three cameras and a number of sophisticated film tools. This allowed them a special effects scene—the bale of hay set ablaze, shot using three cameras—and a dramatic death scene—the female’s death character is seen spitting up blood. But according to Vankevich, sometimes the best effects are very low-tech. “Red dye and white corn syrup make really good blood,” he quips.

The winners were announced at the two-day film screening downtown, where the four film-inspiring bands—Young and Sexy, P:ano, Sparrow, and Ashley Park—performed. Though PONTY SOUP, a silent film about the days when nothing can hold you back beat out the rest, TWU students have no regrets about the experience.

“Most of us came into it knowing it would be a tremendous experience,” says TWU student Gareth Griffith. “When you have an opportunity, to put your stuff in front of respected members of the Vancouver film industry it’s not winning the contest that matters. It’s more like the thrill of taking part in an extreme sports event.”

For Griffith, the most gratifying part of the experience was moments after handing in the film. “After an intense night with no sleep, I looked up at the sun and had this feeling of completion of some great journey or crusade,” he says. “There a real sense of wow, we did this.”

TWU’s current Communications program offers screen-writing, digital film-making, and film history. In the fall of 2005, TWU will launch its School of Media and Fine Arts, offering a Bachelor in Fine Arts (BFA) in Film Studies as well as Acting and Visual Arts.


Last Updated: 2015-07-16
Author: Keela Keeping