The PEN: Sean Wainsteim - Writer/Director

When the topic of talented writers/directors comes up, Sean’s name is always mentioned. I have worked with Sean in the past, and his leadership, dedication, and calmness on set inspires and influences his crew to produce great work. When people work with Sean, they know that the end result will be something they will be proud to showcase. His amicable personality means he is a pleasure to work with, and I cannot recommend him more not only as a writer/director, but also as a good person. Look out for more of Sean’s work in the future and check out what he has to say about the film/commercial industry below. Enjoy.  Sean is represented in Canada by OPC / Family Style.

I’m Sean and I’m a filmmaker (“Hi, Sean”). I love film. I love watching film and I’m absolutely the happiest and most confident when I’m on a film set. Unless I’m making an omelette. I make a damn good omelette. 

A bit about me. My grandparents fled from Eastern Europe before, during and after the war. My father was born in Brazil. My mother was born in France. They met in Israel. I was born in Canada. My biggest fear as a boy in 1980s suburban Toronto was Nazi stormtroopers. I went to art school to make interactive robot art that chased people around galleries. By the time I graduated art school I was making films. A few years later I founded an award-winning boutique design and animation studio. Years later I left my company while it was a rising success. I survived an airplane crash in New Zealand. I filmed my airplane crash. I missed filming elephants at a market in India because the cameras were three hours late. I lost a Juno to Drake. I’ve done many things though it often feels as if I haven’t achieved anything at all. Everything in my life has made me the filmmaker I am today. I’m only beginning to understand that.

It’s really difficult to narrow down advice for aspiring filmmakers. A filmmaker’s job description is very broad job and can include a psychologist’s insight, a poet’s heart, a technical scientist’s mind, the calm patience of a monk, the humour of a Bill Murray™, the quick response of an athlete and the clarity of a traffic signal. Conversely, a filmmaker can encompass none of those things and still be a success. I know filmmakers from all backgrounds and temperament. Every filmmaker took a different path to get where they are. Every filmmaker feels like they’re still on their journey. This is empowering. Anyone can be a filmmaker. Being a good and true filmmaker is the hard part.

Let’s assume you want to be a filmmaker who tells stories or communicatessomething. Here are four simple things to keep in mind. These are things you already know. If you practice these ideas fully, you’ll attract like minded collaborators. Collaborating with individuals who are all after the same goal is invaluable. It’s the fucking best.

BE HONEST. 

It’s probably the easiest thing to say and the hardest to do. Being honest with yourself is difficult enough. Being honest in your work exposes you to the world. It’s a brave move but it’s the most important thing there is. Understanding deeply and truly what it is you want to say, to whom and why is not easy. Knowing your strengths & weaknesses and likes & dislikes is key. Sometimes making a film is the process towards discovering and revealing that honesty. Try to do work from an honest place. That’s not to say that every film should be a personal story. Die Hard is as honest a film as Barton Fink. It’s about communicating something from a truthful place within (to others and yourself). You should have a reason for doing every project and honestly connect with that reason. That reason could be that you’re trying to recreate a feeling you had when you were six, that you really want to shoot with a crane because it’s a totally new shot or you really need the money to pay rent. As long as you recognize the honest reason and acknowledge it, that’s a great place to start.

GIVE A SHIT

If you’re starting from an honest place, it’s easier to give a shit. Care about each project you work on. Care about each shot you work on. Care about every part of every shot. The framing. The wardrobe. The lighting. The acting. How it fits into the whole. Care about it all. If you’re starting from an honest place there’s always a way in to caring.

WORK HARD

Being honest and giving a shit means you’ll want to work hard. The harder you work, the better your work will be. Do the time. Rewrite that script. Do it again. Prep as much as possible. But…!

One of the best pieces of advice I got was from my friend Jean. Years ago she said “Sean, you always work hard, but you don’t always work smart”. She was right. It’s important to step back from your hard work. To see the forest AND the trees. Perhaps you’ll realize that you’re not in a forest at all. Work hard but don’t get so caught up in what you’re doing that you neglect to look at the project from multiple angles and from fresh perspectives. Lift your head up and look around every now and then. 

MAKE STUFF

Make stuff. Make stuff that matters. Make stuff that doesn’t. Care about all of it. Talk and planning are good but we learn by doing. We get better through practice. It’s part of the hard work. We often forget how easy it is to borrow a camera and ask friends to help make something. Technology is accessible and people are interested in helping people who are honest, give a shit and work hard. Making stuff means that you get to see results, good and bad. Learn from success and failure. Then go make more stuff.

These are basic goals, but they are a good place to start and great things to remind yourself of often. Of course you should also watch films, read, eat, look at art, listen to music, listen to people, fall in love, get angry and see new places. But that’s another column for another blog. In that one I’ll write about storytelling and making eggs. Now get outta here and go work hard as you make honest stuff that you give a shit about.

You can follow Sean on his website http://www.seanwainsteim.com/

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The Current Production Process: What Can You Do to be More Productive?

Getting started in media production can be a daunting process. Often, the rules and etiquette are unspoken, and a good producer has to rely on a healthy sense of tact and organization to navigate a shoot.

When it comes to the production process, a producers organization habits can determine the difference between a fun successful shoot or a chaotic nightmare shoot. Solid organization habits allow more time to prepare a schedule, get call sheets and paperwork out to the crew, while leaving a larger window to anticipate last minute changes. Overall, an organized producer is an informed producer, who knows the shoot implicitly, able to answer any questions related to any aspect of the production.

Manners and mannerisms are still an essential skill in the producers tool belt. As a producer, it’s important to remember that you’re the leader, and that the crew is always looking in your direction when they have a question – even if it’s a technical question out of your field. A good producer needs to find that sweet spot between being relaxed and easy-going, but firm and serious about deadlines. I have worked with a Rolodex of disorganized, stressed out and unpleasant producers, and their poor attitude affected the morale of the set every time, and ultimately the final product. Your energy and attitude is as important as work ethic – you’ll see it reflected in your crew.

A good producer should leave their ego at the door. Listen to suggestions your crew may propose. Often, members of the crew work in a variety of other creative trades, so use their valuable experience towards your own project. Your crew will respect you for considering their input, and will create a harmonious set where everyone is working towards a singular goal. You are an authority on the set. Act like it. Be confident, organized and accept suggestions.

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The PEN: Peter Harvey - Producer/Filmmaker

This weeks PEN is focusing on Producer/Filmmaker Peter Harvey. Pete has worked in both the multimillion dollar blockbuster film world and the smaller Canadian indie picture world and has found success in both. His drive to tell an engaging and thoughtful story has lead him to this success and will continue to do so in the future. His latest film Picture Day is currently playing at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, you can find the link to tickets below. Enjoy. 

I started making movies when I was 11 years old. I had a pretty good sense of who I was and why I did it. Mainly, I made movies for fun, with my best friends with an unlimited amount of time to shoot them. Plain and simple. We had the best time doing it and because of that, we made movie after movie after movie. I am now currently making films and loving every minute of it. If the 11 year old me, could look at what I am doing right now, he would be proud.

It’s funny, the film industry I first entered into and the film industry I currently work in, are two completely different monsters. I entered in Vancouver and worked way down that “military style ladder” on one of those $100-200 Million movies. It was terrible. No one was there to have fun and make movies with friends. They were there to make money and go home. Day after day. Year after year. Plain and simple. That was their life and that is what they “enjoyed”… as they complained about anything and everything. That is just not my kind of filmmaking. Never has been and never will be. I left Vancouver and headed to Toronto where I felt the Indie Canadian film scene was happening.  It was and I haven’t looked back since.

 

The main reason I make films now: Story. I love to tell compelling stories that I believe need to be told AND have fun while making those stories come to life. I have built friendships that will last forever film sets and I hope that I will get the opportunity to make another film with those particular people again. 

Since I’ve started, I think a lot of things have changed in the actual industry. I, personally, have started to make films on a bigger budget scale, but at the same time I think that overall budgets of films are shrinking. Fewer films are being financed for more and more films are being made for “Micro” budgets. It’s a blessing and a curse. Technology is letting filmmakers make films for less, which is great, but it also means there is a lot of films that don’t get the proper development they need before they are rushed into production. I really do think that some people forgot about story. A film relies on a good story. Sometimes you can get away with a smaller budget and smaller crew, but if you’re lacking story the audience will know.

I’m very interested and curious to see where online distribution will go in the next 2-5 years. We’ve already come a long way, but I only think that it’s the beginning of the online revolution. I think going straight to online is the only way to help some of these smaller projects and the filmmakers make money off of the project, in hopes that they can make their next film. Take Ed Burns’Newlyweds as a prime example of this.

If I were to give advice to someone who was coming into the industry, I would tell them: Only get into film if you love it. It’s a crazy industry full of long hours, stressful problem solving situations and it’s not glamorous… no matter what it looks like in magazines. Do it because this is your passion and you love to make films.