Festival Daily

By Thom Ernst


The Talent Lab is one of those brilliantly conceived ideas that could only come out of a festival like TIFF. This four-day creative course allows a select group of promising filmmakers to work alongside their peers while also being given the unique opportunity to connect with some of the most well-respected names in the industry.


“We would like the participants to be overwhelmed by the end of four days. Overwhelmed by possibility, that is,” says Sandra Cunningham of Strada Films who, along with partner Brad Fox, co-produce the programme. Her intention is simple: “That these young filmmakers will be inspired to make films that express their own distinct voices.”


Oliver Irving, a filmmaker from the United Kingdom, was initially disappointed that his feature How to Be was not eligible for the Festival this year – a feeling that was short-lived once he learned he had secured a spot for himself in this year’s Lab. “I hope to experience as much as possible. I’m coming with an open mind,” he says.


Tom Quinn’s award-winning short film The New Year Parade placed him on MovieMaker Magazine’s list of 10 young writer-directors to watch and made him one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 new faces of independent film. He, too, jumped at the chance to be part of this year’s Lab. “The post-production process is so isolating,” says Quinn. “I’m eager to become part of a larger filmmaking community.”

Larissa Giroux, a Toronto-based filmmaker, is also participating in this year’s Lab. Giroux maintains a rather philosophical approach to the programme. “I have often wondered why we work in this crazy business,” she says, “and I believe that the answer is hope. The Talent Lab puts the results of dreams and determination on display for Canadian filmmakers, enabling us to reinvest in our hopes and believe that all things are possible.”


For just a few days at the start of the Festival, Irving, Quinn and Giroux, along with the other participants of the Talent Lab, will have their chance to discover if all things are truly possible in the world of filmmaking.


The day begins with all participants meeting co-producer Brad Fox in the lobby of the Comfort Inn. From there, they embark on a two-hour walk through the Festival landscape, giving everyone a chance to get to know one another and introducing participants to the city.


Irving arrives at the Festival after nearly two days of travelling, which took him from Spain to Toronto. With a six-hour time difference and a full day ahead of him, this first day leaves him feeling exhausted.


He admits that he’s somewhat apprehensive about the screening of his Motorola film project – a short film made on the cellphone provided to each member of the group by Motorola.


“It was a bit tense and everyone dreaded having theirs shown,” explains Irving. “Then the governors were introduced, and judging by Stephen Woolley’s (Stoned) fantastic insights and Don McKellar’s (Blindness) warm, engaging manner, [I knew] we were in for a treat.”


Quinn shares Irving’s apprehension about having his short-film project screened, but says the experience is worth it. “While many of us were anxious, the phone films proved a wonderful introduction to the peer group. By shooting on cellphones, the playing field was levelled, and those with access to High-Definition cameras were at the same level as those with home camcorders. I was amazed at the variety – short documentaries, comedies and dramas all filmed through mobile technology.”


The first guest to arrive at Talent Lab is American director Brian De Palma (Scarface). He tells the participants that of all the misfires a director can make, poor choice in casting can be the most fatal. He passes on sage advice for how to direct actors. Your focus should be not as much on what you are saying but on what they are hearing, he advises. In other words, “red” to one person can mean “blue” to another.


“I thought that was very sound advice,” Quinn says, “because it is easy to get caught up with your own ideas and to feel frustrated when others cannot realize them – [but] most often poor communication is the culprit.”

After a full day of learning, the group gathers for a cocktail party at the home of Canadian playwright David Young.


The next few days prove to be long for those involved in the Lab – beginning at 9am and ending (officially) at 6pm. But the responsibilities and work of a filmmaker don’t always run according to schedule – especially when you include dinner, cocktails and parties that can run into the wee hours of the morning. “We were all exhausted by the end but filled with inspiration,” says Quinn.


A marked increase in inspiration seems to be the agreed-upon result of this year’s Lab. But there were other gains to be made, as well. Nothing can replace the lessons one can garner from those who lead the way in filmmaking. Giroux, Irving, Quinn and the other Lab participants met with and heard from some of the most respected and successful names in the industry. They are eager to recall some of the lasting advice provided by the Talent Lab’s guest speakers.


For example, from Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf (Two-Legged Horse), they learned what it feels like to direct actors. She likened directing an actor to falling in love and explained that while you may not know the person very well at the beginning (or even know what to expect), this relationship, like love, develops over time.


Canadian director Deepa Mehta (Heaven on Earth) inspired them with common sense. Quinn recalls a highlight of her class: “Don’t waste time trying to be intellectual,” she told us. “Be yourself. If you want something, get on your knees and beg for it.”


And director-actor Ed Harris (Appaloosa) shared his advice about preparation. He told participants that rehearsals should be more about penetrating the script than perfecting it.


Perhaps the most significant thing that came from this year’s Lab was the opportunity to meet other people who share a similar passion and love for film and filmmaking. “We have all been adding each other on Facebook and exchanging business cards in hopes that we can be a network of continued support for each other,” says Quinn.