I became a filmmaker less because of the technical wizardry and show business aspects of the industry and more for the simple reason that cinema is the most sophisticated tool for storytelling. As far as I can remember I have told stories to entertain myself, friends, family; it’s the means by which I connect to people, to concepts and the only satisfying way I have found to make some sense of the world.
As I grew older I cut my teeth by writing short stories, tragically bad poetry, dabbled in online music journalism, blogging (it wasn’t really a big deal yet). Eventually I realized that realm of cinema is where I had always wanted to play; I had been an incurable home-videophile as a young lad and I not only adored the medium, I understood it (or thought I did), so threw myself headlong into the craft without any real concrete idea of what I was doing.
I went to film school eventually with the hopes of ironing out the technical sides of filmmaking and to also get formally educated. It was somewhere in that period that I decided that I wanted to make films that were original, fresh, intelligent. I almost became religious about it. Film was after all a medium where you invited others to give you their attention for periods of time, and as such this opportunity was sacred and could not be squandered. I still feel strongly about that subject.
Many artists make the mistake early on to want to make masterpieces right away, and my early work certainly shows evidence of an almost desperate need to be taken seriously. I rationalized that with all the big budget tomfoolery out there, the countless bad films, stupid comedies, tired action/horror/thriller clones, that the only way to make my mark was to write and direct every film like it was trying to cure cancer. This attitude isn’t entirely gone because it has beneficial aspects to it, but I have calmed down significantly.
Eventually you begin to understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie and start being a little less judgmental about what’s original and what’s not. I came to the realization that the only really fresh quality of any material comes from the perspective of its writer; no two people experience life exactly the same way thus even an overexposed story can live again if the viewpoint is interesting enough.
After trying my hand at mainly complex human dramas and some abstract commercial work, I one day happened upon a man by the name of Shawn Baichoo. I had heard of Shawn very peripherally through the video game community where he is a rising star in the voice-acting/motion capture industry (He’d been in every Assassin’s Creed game, Deux Ex: Human Revolution, etc..), and a chance encounter online led to a sit-down where we both discovered our mutual love of quality film, comic books, and Dungeons & Dragons (the other “white meat” of storytelling).
Shawn told me about his passion for well-crafted stage combat and his disappointment in many of the films he had recently seen that let style overwhelm substance and coherence. This lead to a conversation about superhero films, and in particular his favorite Marvel character of all-time, the Punisher. We talked at great lengths about Punisher as I had always had a soft spot for Marvel’s most notorious anti-hero. We agreed that the character had never been given his due despite three studio productions, and was seemingly misunderstood by Hollywood. As it turns out Shawn had been in pre-prod for about a year on his own rendition of the Punisher with his industry friends and a stage combat team he had trained himself (you know, for fun). At that point I basically looked at Shawn and said the only thing I could say, which was to let me direct it.
To make a long story short, a year later we are releasing the film at the Montreal Comiccon 2013 (after having presented the project teaser at two high profile events) to great fanfare and excitement and I couldn’t be prouder of the work we have accomplished. The Punisher: No Mercy is a fan film in only the most basic sense because it’s also a bonafide, fully-loaded genre action film with quality production values and enough attitude to peel the skin off of your face.
The most amusing thing about The Punisher: No Mercy to me is how distant it is from the kinds of films I initially set out to make and yet it has taught me a considerable amount about filmmaking, more than I ever imagined. The lesson here is to never discount a genre or type of project before really talking to the people behind it and reading the script.
A real director is an individual who can pick up any type of story, particularly if it’s not their cup of tea and run with it, and make it as compelling and great as possible. Don’t limit yourself to what you like and what you know, you might miss out on some profound personal discoveries.
Oh , and in case you’re wondering, the film will be out on Youtube in a couple of weeks.
[This week’s bonus assignment: Take a setting or story you do not connect with at all (e.i. 50 Shades of Grey) and challenge yourself to write a one-page treatment or description on how you would tackle it. We’ll call it the Philosopher’s Stone Challenge (turning lead into gold).]