Slideshow: local filmmakers bring Dungeons & Dragons to life

February 17, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Photos and audio from the filming of Standard Action episode four at the Fish House restaurant in Stanley Park, Vancouver on Jan. 31. The series, created by local actor Joanna Gaskell, takes place in the universe of a role-playing game similar to that of Dungeons & Dragons. Episodes one through three are online now.

Getting started in film cheap, easy, says local filmmaker

February 6, 2011 by · 5 Comments 

Quentin Tarantino taught himself the history of film. Sir Ridley Scott worked on roughly 2,700 commercials before he made it big with Alien. Robert Rodriguez sold his body to science to fund his filmmaking.

These guys are incredibly passionate about film. It’s easy for them to make movies because they have lots of money. But they didn’t always, and if you want to make your own films, you don’t need to be rich either.

Rob Hunt is a local independent filmmaker. Like Tarantino, he didn’t go to film school. He says he would have if he’d had the money, but film programs are really expensive.

“I think that the problem with a film program is that you go and you spend all this money, and you don’t walk away with any equipment. So you really have to be aware of that. If you’re going to be in a film program, you have to be there 110%. You’ve got to be using the equipment, you’ve got to be making friends and contacts,” Hunt says.

And, of course, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a job once you graduate.

Hunt, who has a degree in computer science from the University of Victoria, has filmed two feature films and purchased all of his own equipment in approximately the same time as a film program would take.

He’s currently directing Standard Action, the Dungeons & Dragons-themed webseries he co-created with girlfriend Joanna Gaskell.

Hunt isn’t afraid of a little competition. In fact, he welcomes it.

“I wanna see cool stuff, and I don’t like what the big studios are doing,” he says. “You’ll see ideas come from independent film that studios are not willing to take a risk on.”


If you want to make your own film, Hunt says you only need a few simple things.

The first is a digital single-lens reflex camera that shoots HD video. Hunt shoots Standard Action on a Canon T2i, which costs around $800. The 7D is also a good option, Hunt says, but it’s a lot more expensive.

Buying a cheaper camera means less of a financial loss if the camera is broken or confiscated. It also means you can buy a second camera, which saves time because it allows you to shoot a scene from two angles at the same time.

Hunt quotes Stu Maschwitz, the man behind filmmaking blog Prolost, as recommending the T2i over the 7D because it has recently been hacked, which has unlocked (for free) a lot of features that would ordinarily come on cameras that cost thousands of dollars more. The hack is pretty recent, so he advises waiting a few months before using it on your camera to make sure it’s stable.

If you buy your camera in a kit it will come with a couple of lenses, but Hunt advises upgrading them. He says a fast 50mm lens, which costs around $100, will work well in low-light situations. It’s also a good idea to get a wide-angle lens, he says, and a “reasonable” tripod.

DSLR cameras shoot beautiful video but the audio quality isn’t very good, so you’ll have to buy an external recording device of some kind. Hunt uses the Zoom H4n (around $350) on Standard Action, but he says he’s seen sound guys using even simpler devices with good results.

Hunt says that, in addition to the recorder, you’ll need a microphone. “You need a basic boom mic and boom pole. A boom pole is like 50 bucks, and boom mic or shotgun microphone, those are like 200 dollars.”

And since you’ll be recording your audio and video separately, you’ll need a slate (also known as a clapboard) which is basically a piece of plastic or wood with two pieces that click when they’re brought together. It makes adding the separate audio track to the video easy during the editing process – you just line both up at the click.

“That’s kind of old school and it’s come back again as a real requirement,” Hunt says.

If you’d like to dabble a bit in lighting, Hunt recommends starting with a good bounce (also known as a reflector) to hold under actors’ faces for close-ups. “It just makes the face a little bit lighter, and more professionally-lit looking,” Hunt says.

A basic lighting kit can come in handy, too. They have just three small 300-watt lights, but DSLR cameras are so good in low-light that that’s all you need. Hunt just bought one for around $300. He’ll be using it during the production of Standard Action episode four.

There’s also a nifty little camera-mounted LED light that’s great for making actors’ faces pop when shooting close-ups. According to Hunt, it’s handy for filming in forests because it maintains the dark, spooky atmosphere, but lights the actors very well. And in daylight situations, it provides more control over the quality of the light. Hunt says he found his for around $40 on eBay.


“If you want to make film, you need a friend who is gullible enough to come out, hold the boom mic, and learn how to use whatever thing you’ve got to record sound,” Hunt says.

“You need a guy who knows how to make sure that he knows that he’s recording and not just listening to the sound, cuz there is that big difference. And to be able to not shake the boom mic around, cuz that’s important.”

Another handy person to have around is a set decorator. Hunt says that the addition of a set decorator has made Standard Action look that much more professional. And if you hire someone who can also do other things, like design costumes or operate your second camera, it will make your life that much easier and save you a lot of time.


Hunt found his set decorator on Craigslist. “I’ve seen some great miracles happen from the people I’ve pulled off of Craigslist. I’ve had some incredibly talented and enthusiastic people,” he says.

“Don’t be afraid to try to find other people, just be ready to have a little bit of friction or find people who don’t actually help.”

Hunt advises posting the “gigs” section, because you have a better chance of finding people who share your passion for filmmaking and will volunteer their time to help you out.

If you need to fundraise, Hunt says IndieGoGo is the way to go. Creators set up pages on the fan-funding site and then anyone, anywhere can donate as much money as they like to the project. Hunt says it allows filmmakers to approach people they normally wouldn’t for funding, and thanks to IndieGoGo, he is now looking at being able to afford a premiere for his movie, The Director’s Project.

“That website alone has changed the whole game in the last year, and i really look forward to how that’s going to expand. I think that’s just going to get a lot better for us,” Hunt says.

And for those interested in special effects, Hunt says Video Copilot is a great site to visit. It’s run by Andrew Kramer, who created the title sequences for Fringe and the Star Trek movie. The site offers free tutorials in Adobe After Effects, which allows filmmakers to “make someone’s leg or head blow off” without any danger.


Hunt speaks very highly of the DV Rebel’s Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap. He says “it’s like 80 bucks, but it’s like the Bible, or like a textbook. It’s not necessarily a storybook, but it’s everything you could need.”

He also highly recommends Robert Rodriguez’s memoir Rebel Without a Crew. “It’s the kind of book you read if you’re feeling down and you don’t want to make film any more. You read it, and then you want to do it again. ‘Cause, like, he sold his body to science to do it, and lived in an institution…it’s pretty epic.”

Hunt reads a lot. “Buy books on amazon and read them,” he says. “That’s how you really become a good filmmaker.”


DVD commentaries are also a great source of information. Again, Hunt recommends Robert Rodriguez’s movies, because his commentaries and extras are geared toward filmmakers.

And the Lord of the Rings, with its 12 hours of commentary, “is such a huge wealth of stuff.” In addition to directors and actors, there are commentaries by the set designers, costume-makers and art designers. Hunt says that the ideas in commentaries are a good way to learn about what does and doesn’t show up on-camera so that you can pull off professional-looking special effects and costumes without having to spend a lot of money.

Hunt also recommends the DVD boxed set of The Middleman. The show, which ran for a single season in 2008, was based on a comic book about a girl recruited by a guy who fixes weird problems for a living to be his replacement.


Kwantlen doesn’t offer any filmmaking classes, but Hunt says there are still some useful courses in the calendar.

The first, and most basic, is an introductory English course. Hunt says he once read a screenwriting book that advised writers to use the same essay-writing techniques he learned at university.

“Writing scripts for me…is very similar to writing a ten-page essay,” he says. “I’ll make notecards and I’ll lay them out on the ground, and it’s exactly the same as how i used to write long essays.”

Hunt doesn’t personally have a problem generating story ideas or writing fiction, but he says that if it’s a skill you need to work on, creative writing classes are a must. Kwantlen offers several that might interest filmmakers, including Introduction to Creative Writing I and II (CRWR 1100 and 1110), Drama, Fiction and Poetry I and II (CRWR 2300 and 2310) and Screenwriting I and II (CRWR 3120 and 3220.)

Jason Lieblang, who teaches German Culture through Film (CUST 3300,) thinks that his course would be beneficial for aspiring filmmakers too.

“You definitely don’t learn the practical skills necessary to make films in a class like mine, that is, editing and how to work a camera and those types of things,” Leiblang says. “You do learn about the history of cinema, about the great directors, about great sort of shifts in filmmaking that were crucial and important and affected the way that films were made after that.”

He also teaches students how to analyze films as texts, looking narrative and form so that students can understand film in a “a deeper, more profound way.”

On top of that, he teaches his students how to “communicate clearly, effectively and persuasively” by writing short argumentative essays.

And rather that writing a final paper, Leiblang says that students can do other kinds of projects, including making a film, if they can prove that they will satisfy the requirements of the assignment.

Kwantlen’s course calendar promises that Introduction to Film Studies (ARTH 1130) will teach students about the “history and development of world cinema” and about “film as a visual language and art-making practice,” and says that students “will learn methods for exploring aesthetic function and for considering the social, political, and technological contexts” of movies. This, like Lieblang’s German Culture Through Film class, will teach you some basic film terms and give you a good grounding in the interpretation of film.

If you’re interested in understanding film and having a lot of control over the way your films are interpreted, Eryne Donahue’s Introduction to Visual Culture (FINA 1167) course may be for you. Donahue says that her class will help students understand films from a variety of perspectives.

“[Filmmakers] could sort of get a sense of how that stuff is put together and then how it’s read by the public,” she says. “They could from there get a sense of what’s already out there and how they could maybe contribute to it.”

Donahue also teaches Photography I (FINA 1170) which is the closest thing Kwantlen offers to a filmmaking class. She says it would be very beneficial for anyone who wants to make movies because a lot of the the language and principles involved are the same.

“It gives a pretty good understanding of how film works. They’re based on the same sort of principles, right, technically. And if they’re taking the course it also sort of slows them down because we’re dealing with film-based cameras instead of digital to start. They really have to kind of focus and put a lot of emphasis on the choices they make and that would set them up really well for storyboarding and planning for film,” she says.

She has some advice for students who want to get into film, too.

“The student should be prepared to do a lot of work,” Donahue says. “There’s no sort of standard path, really, with film or any of the arts, so you have to have a strong vision in mind to know really where you want to go with it.”


For more of the Chronicle’s coverage of independent arts in Vancouver, click here.

To watch Standard Action click here

Click here for Rob Hunt’s website.

Stu Maschwitz’s blog is here.

Video Copilot, which offers free special effects tutorials for filmmakers, is here.

Check Kwantlen’s course calendar for useful courses.

Amazon, Craigslist and IndieGoGo are useful sites for filmmakers.

Guerrilla filmmaking is a risky but rewarding endeavor

February 4, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Edwin Perez and Joanna Gaskell party it up in between takes on the set of the web series “Standard Action”, which is usually filmed on location without permits. (photo courtesy of Standard Action website)

Guerrilla filmmakers aren’t a bunch of James Bonds or 1950s beatniks, but what they do has them constantly looking at the dangling boulder of consequence hanging over their heads.

Being a guerrilla filmmaker often means filming illegally in public areas, where permits are required, but also means making a movie free of Hollywood standards.

Guerilla filmmakers are working with significantly low budgets, on purpose. The movement believes strongly in the artistic effort.

Rob Hunt, director of the fantasy-themed web series Standard Action, has one thought about the guerrilla work he has done in the past.

“I would love to redo all the things I’ve ever made with the people who walk their dogs through the scene. You’re having an epic moment, and then dude and his wife walk by with their tiny dog. And it’s like, ‘Hey, just go through’,” said Hunt.

And while the frequent possibility of people walking into frame is always keeping the guerrilla filmmaker vigilant, the much greater threat of facing a hefty fine for filming without a permit, or even being arrested, looms.

Hunt recalls a story he heard about a filmmaking experience gone awry.

“I know other people who have had issues…[a guy] had [fake] guns and they were filming in a house, so it was totally legitimate, and then one of the actors wandered out in the alley…and was posing with it, and then people called the cops and next thing you know, dude’s on the ground with a real gun pointed at his head,” Hunt said.

Working on a tight budget already, having to cough up any amount of money to something other than their masterpiece certainly isn’t helpful. But what about the equipment? That stuff must not come cheap, right?

It’s true, it can be costly to invest in the right equipment, but Hunt says that if you have a decent DSLR camera, such as a Canon Rebel T2i, and good sound equipment, including a boom mic, you’re all set to start shooting.

You’ll also need a cast. Hunt recommends Craigslist as a good source of finding actors and crew members, but warns that it can also be a sour experience.

“I’ve seen some great miracles happen from the people I’ve pulled off of Craigslist…just be ready to have a little bit of friction or find people who don’t actually help,” said Hunt.

Guerrilla filmmaking allows those without the money to film big-budget productions live out their passion for making movies and being creative. Hunt is an advocate for it for one other reason.

“You’ll see ideas come from independent film that studios are not willing to take a risk on,” he said.

Some mainstream directors got their start working guerrilla style, including Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky and Malcolm X director Spike Lee.

Outdoor cinema a breath of fresh air

January 10, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Barb Floden has helped to create a monster, one that emerges at night in summer and is adored in communities throughout Metro Vancouver.

For the last five years, the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation communications director has organized the Monsters in the Meadow film events, a series of free public movies screened outdoors at Ceperly Meadow, located close to Second Beach in Stanley Park.

The annual event brings hundreds of people out to watch classic B-rated monster movies in the ominous surroundings after dark.

This year, Monsters in the Meadow screened The Blob, the morbid tale of an alien life form that eats everything that gets in its way.

Floden said that despite some rain, more than 500 people showed up with blankets, popcorn and costumes to take in a bit of old-fashioned, drivein-inspired fun.

She said that event provides a great opportunity for people to come out for some affordable fun that isn’t the usual programming offered by the park board.

“Recreation is not just sports or fitness oriented,” she explained. “It’s anything to do with engaging people at the community level and bringing them together in a positive way, and arts and culture is also part of our mandate. And this is not the traditional public art and crafts and painting.”

Since Monsters in the Meadow began in 2004, localities throughout the Lower Mainland have promoted similar free movie screenings.

With the help of Fresh Air Cinemas, an events promotion and logistics company, White Rock, Langley, Burnaby and Coquitlam all hosted public movie screenings this past summer. The cities provide the right park
or accessible space and Fresh Air comes in and sets up sound, projection and a huge inflatable screen for viewing.

Floden acknowledged that sponsorship and support for free movie events like these come from many sources, and the public support is obviously there.

She said that the West End Community Association’s showing of Momma Mia at Harbor Green Park brought out more than 1,000 people.

In Surrey, free movie events have taken on a life of their own over the past five years.

Bonnie Burnside, manager of special events and communication for the Surrey Downtown Business Improvement Association, said that she has watched their annual summer movie events grow from a small get together near the Gateway SkyTrain station to a series of full-fledged community parties at Holland Park. Burnside said that this past summer, more than 2,000 people came out each night to see family films such as The Lion King and Hannah Montana: The Movie.

Burnside said she thinks that the events fill a void in summer-events programs in Surrey and provide members of the diverse community with an opportunity to come out and meet their neighbours.

“In our area, there weren’t a lot of events going on in the summertime and there particularly wasn’t a lot of events going on in the evening,” said Burnside. “What we wanted to do was show everybody that this was a great place to come and be a part of an event.”

Public response to the films has been overwhelmingly positive, but Burnside said that it is a costly venture that comes with some strings attached.

This summer, Burnside was able to finance the Holland Park movie events, pre-show entertainment included, for about $23,000. However, she knows the cost for next year will be higher and that it will be difficult to come up with the extra funding from her budget.

In Vancouver, Floden’s concerns have less to do with funding and more to do with organization and legalities. Responsibility for advertising for the movies was shared between business associations, community associations and Fresh Air Cinema, which made it difficult to find out where and when the events were happening.

To make matters worse, she said that many community associations bought the wrong public-screening licenses, which prevented them from advertising the names of the films screened. She said that things will be organized differently next year.

“We’ll do a group marketing effort that can show people ‘here is all of the events happening in our parks this summer,’ because people don’t really care who sponsors them, they just want to go see a free movie,” said Floden with a laugh.

“They can come out and just hang out at the park with their friends and neighbours and don’t have to open their wallets at all.”

Eco club shows free movie Thursday

October 14, 2008 by · 1 Comment 

Garbage Warrior!, the movie that won the Audience Award at last year’s Vancouver International Film Festival, will be shown Thursday, Oct. 16, in room 2550A at the Richmond campus.

Garbage Warrior! is a documentary about the work of radical eco-architect Michael Reynolds and his efforts to build off-grid self-sufficient communities.

The free screening is courtesy of SAFE, the Kwantlen students’ environmental club.

Review: We’ve been down this road before

October 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Sex Drive
2/4 stars
Release date: Oct. 17

The potholes along the way are sure to entertain in the movie Sex Drive. But we’ve all been down this bumpy road before in every other teenage comedy.

The plot of Sex Drive, which some Kwantlen students got to see after the KSA arranged for a pre-release screening, has been done in other movies such as Road Trip, Euro Trip, American Pie and many more coming-of-age tales. What seem to differentiate the teenage misadventures are the only misadventures themselves.

Ian Lafferty, played by Josh Zuckerman, is tired of being an 18-year-old virgin. His macho older brother, Rex, played by James Marsden is constantly accusing him of being gay, and his best friend, Lance, played by Clark Duke, is a ladies man, who’s pressuring Ian to rid of his virginity.

So when Ms.Tasty, a woman Ian has met on the internet, tells him that if he drives from Chicago to her home in Knoxville she’ll go all the way with him, Ian steals his brother’s ’69 GTO and heads out with Lance. When Ian’s good friend, Felicia, played by Amanda Crew, goes along for the ride, she becomes the first complications of many, including a trailer park brawl, travel through Amish country and an abstinence seminar.

Director Sean Anders takes his time developing the characters by throwing them into far-out, true-to-life scenarios, such as Ian’s minimum wage job, where he walks around the local mall wearing a giant doughnut costume.

James Marsden takes on an aggressive role that he hasn’t played before, kicking and screaming his way throughout the movie. He nailed the role of the testosterone-driven young male and looks like he had fun doing it.

There were some hilarious scenes reminiscent of American Pie, without Eugene Levy, involving Ian’s step-mother, whose timing couldn’t be worse.

Mindless entertainment can be good at times, but the movie gets tiring. A lot of scenes have been done before, and some jokes fall flat. This movie has its laugh-out-loud funny parts, but for the most part it is another teenage road trip story. And to be honest, that’s getting old.

With edgier coming-of-age movies have hit the theatres, such as Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, this movie reeks of clichés and mindless entertainment.

But if you’re not sick of those movies where there’s that guy who is still a virgin, goes on a road trip with his friends, sees a lot of topless girls, gets in fights and reaches an epiphany, then you’ll like Sex Drive.