7 Vancouver Film Directors That Made It Big

Known worldwide in the film industry as “Hollywood North,” Vancouver has a history of producing some of the finest film directors in the world. Since 2000, over a billion dollars worth of revenue has been attributed towards film productions in Vancouver each year. Today, Vancouver is in an excellent position to carve out an even bigger place in the world of film, and this will surely translate into more and more film directors emerging from the city.

Here are 7 Vancouver film directors that have already made it big:

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Neill Blomkamp – Undoubtedly one of the most exceptional products of Vancouver, Neill Blomkamp is best known for directing Elysium and District 9. In addition to directing, he has made a name for himself in the film industry as an adept animator, screenwriter, and producer. Like so many people, Blomkamp first entered Vancouver as an immigrant at the age of 18, moving with his family from South Africa. He quickly established himself as an animator for TV shows like Dark Angel and Stargate: SG1, before his services were sought out by producer Peter Jackson for Blomkamp’s directorial debut, District 9.

Evan Goldberg – This immensely successful director has had an incredible career, working on multiple well-known productions as a director, writer, and producer. He is perhaps best known for his collaborations with his childhood friend, Seth Rogen, although unlike Rogen, Goldberg stays behind the camera. Born in Vancouver, he drew inspiration from his birthplace to write the film Superbad in collaboration with Seth Rogen. His directorial debut began with the film This is the End. More recently he directed The Interview.

Seth Rogen – Although he is best known for his acting roles, Seth Rogen has become one of the highest achieving directors to come out of Vancouver. He has also emerged as an incredibly successful writer and producer, with TV shows such as The Ali G Show and The Simpsons making use of his comedic wit as a writer. Collaborating on the aforementioned films with childhood friend Evan Goldberg, his films have consistently proven box office hits, including his directorial work for This is the End, and The Interview.

Allan King – Focusing his attention mostly on documentary films, Vancouver born Allan King was one of the key pioneers of ‘cinema verite.’ His directorial career has left a lasting impression on the world of art, and there have been numerous exhibits of his work in art galleries and museums across the world. In addition to documentaries, he also directed numerous feature films and TV episodics, winning awards such as BAFTA‘s Best Foreign Film Award, the New York Critics’ Circle Award, the Golden Reel Award, and many more. King died in 2009.

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Sturla Gunnarsson – A household name in Canadian film, Sturla Gunnarsson emigrated to Vancouver from Iceland at age 7. A Day Much Like the Others, one of his very first projects as a film student in Vancouver, was one of the highest achieving student films in both Canada and Europe at the time. He directs both feature and documentary films, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his documentary, After the Axe.

Daryl Duke – Daryl Duke became an icon of Vancouver film before passing away in 2006, winning a Primetime Emmy Award in 1971 for ‘Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Drama’ for his work on The Bold Ones: The Senator. The native Vancouverite also won the Canadian Film Award after directing the critically acclaimed film The Silent Partner.

Mina Shum – Another immigrant to Vancouver at a young age, Mina Shum has proved a worthy addition to Canadian film. She won the Wolfgang Staudte Prize at the Berlin Film Festival for Best First Film for her feature film Double Happiness, which also premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Many of her other short films and features have earned awards and nominations as well.

Independent Filmmakers Seizing Changing Distribution Landscape

A movie landscape once dominated by theatrical releases is now facing competition from an abundance of digital platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Vimeo and YouTube. Netflix and Vimeo have given independent filmmakers more variety when it comes to distribution and one doesn’t necessarily have to release in a theatre. However revenue from these deals still needs to improve for the people who make independent films.

UBC Film Studies Professor Brian McIlroy sees the changes as good for independent filmmakers, but with room for improvement.

“It is true that the emergence, for example, of Vimeo as a platform for independent filmmakers has eased access to an audience. I am old enough to remember the highlight of a student film was to get one of the few spots on CBC’s Reflections program hosted by Adrienne Clarkson. That filtering (and “high culture”) selection process has diminished and the number of film festivals has exploded. The issue now is how to get noticed with so much product online, including YouTube, and actually make some money. So, yes, there are greater distribution opportunities and access to an audience, but the financial model seems to me to be precarious and haphazard.”

However there are curatorial distributors such as IFC/Magnolia that can secure a feature placement in a theatre. Of course here in Canada we have the National Film Board and Telefilm. The NFB has created over 13,000 productions and is in partnership with the world’s leading video portals. The NFB is a great place to pitch an idea and access their programming for emerging filmmakers. The International Women in Film Festival recently screened the award winning short “Rock the Box,” written and directed by Katherine Monk and funded by the NFB.

Once a filmmaker gets their foot in the door they will have access to their festival and worldwide distribution market. Telefilm is another great publicly funded organization that funds and promotes local production companies across Canada and individual filmmakers. They have a wide variety of resources for filmmakers including entry times for festivals, and a feature film distribution fund that makes lines of credit available for Canadian distributors. In 2013 they launched a micro-budget production program that supports filmmakers who want to distribute their film as a web based production. Both Telefilm and NFB have had their budgets cut over the past ten years, but are still robust and important resources for up and coming filmmakers.

Marketing offline is still crucial to getting the attention of audiences and distributors. Films such as “Exit Through the Gift Shop” a film by the elusive street artist “Banksy” got people excited in the real world because of the mysterious appearance of “Banksy” art across major cities. This word-of mouth hype was extremely helpful for the film and the public was buzzing with curiosity.

Amazon and Netflix are putting a lot of energy and resources behind original content, and DIY film culture is penetrating the once inaccessible film studio and challenging the dominance of the Hollywood blockbuster. McIlroy sees the current situation as still in flux.

“Kickstarter fundraising is wonderful but how many projects actually are able to pay back small investors? One suspects that the gold standard will become getting a deal with Netflix to develop a series or an original film. Is this substantively different (apart from size and budget) from filmmakers and producers pitching work to a Hollywood studio?

Nonetheless, the student film is a calling card that can lead to more professional work, so there’s an argument that it might pay off to post one’s film on Vimeo and other platforms for free…assuming you have exhausted the festival circuit and have few creditors.”

Now is an exciting time for independent filmmakers and for audiences who have a thirst for good storytelling, thrilling cinematography and international diverse faces. The established ways of distribution are being transformed and there are challenges. However because of the plethora of platforms, festivals like Sundance and TIFF and with the ability to garner the attention of a sophisticated global audience, there are many new opportunities for independent filmmakers.

Vancouver Film and TV Production Hits An All-Time High

The Vancouver film industry had one of its most lucrative years in 2015 – the number of productions increased by 40 per cent from 2014, and it looks like this rate of growth is set to continue for the upcoming year. It doesn’t take an expert, however, to recognize that the low Canadian dollar has played a massive role in this recent upsurge. But is it simply due to the economy? Vancouver has a lot more going on than just a good exchange rate. Experienced crews, huge studios, an amazing visual effects scene, and the Netflix effect are just a few reasons why Vancouver is one of the hottest locales to shoot a project.

It’s no coincidence that right around 2014, the Vancouver film industry began to take off. That was when the US dollar started to soar and the loonie fell in comparison. Fast forward to today, when that gap is wider than any in recent memory, and you have a formula for one amazing summer for Vancouver film. In 2015, international film production budgets in British Columbia rose by a whopping 54 percent. That’s a grand total of 1.7 billion dollars. In addition, these productions resulted in 143 million dollars of wages being paid to approximately 20,000 Vancouverites who work as film crews in our city. You do the math. These people are making some serious money.

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Deadpool, filmed in Vancouver in 2015

According to Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson, “We see firsthand the enormous positive impact on film and TV productions on our city every day.  As one of Vancouver’s high-growth industries, film is a big contributor to our nation-leading economic growth. Vancouver is home to world-leading talent in the film industry and the City is committed to supporting all levels and aspects of production.” This is a key point when it comes to Vancouver’s film industry: it’s not just at an all-time high, it continues to grow. Right now we are the third busiest city in the world – and we may well rise to number two, or even one.

The Netflix effect is also one of the reasons behind the recent surge in productions. Big companies like Warner Brothers are tapping into the fact that people are turning away from “normal” television, and relying instead on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon for their entertainment needs. Huge companies such as Disney have seen their stocks fall like rocks, and experts say it’s because of the rise of streaming television. Their solution? Invest heavily in making better, higher budget television shows, and a lot of them. Warner Brothers alone is responsible for seven productions that are filming exclusively in Vancouver.

In light of these promising factors, there is a sense of optimism felt by many in the Vancouver film industry. What might the future bring? Over 350 productions were filmed in Vancouver in 2015, and that number is set to continue rising this year: 30 percent more film permits were issued this past January, than in January 2015. One thing is certain – if you’re looking to get your foot in the door in Vancouver’s film industry, there has never been a better time.