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There's a Monster coming to Vancouver

Doug Hutchinson, Jodelle Ferland, and director Deborah Burns. photo: Stuart Robinson

Hannah is a young girl from a small village that lives in harmony with nature. Well mostly. There's one problem. There's a monster living in the forest nearby.

When he's hungry he roars: the villagers hold a lottery and the unlucky winner must sneak into the forest, drop off some food, and quickly get out.

MONSTER is the winner of the third annual Hot Shots Short Film Contest and a great example of how the whole Vancouver filmmaking community creatively came together.

We sat down with the film's director Deborah Burns to talk about her exciting new project.

WD: Can you tell us a little about yourself as a filmmaker.

DB: I've been making short films for the last eight years. The last one I made was called Sockland which was part of a Straight 8 competition, a competition out of London.

It's an interesting competition. They give you one marked reel of super eight film and you have to shoot the whole film in camera, like do all the editing in camera, and then you send the unprocessed film back to London and they process it. You also have to send the sound track.

It didn't win the top prize but it won the top eleventh spot and the top ten went to Cannes. That short went to all sorts of festivals though.

I shot it while I was working at the Vancouver Art Gallery. I was down in the catacombs utilizing the scary space down there.

WD: Where did Monster come from.

DB: It was just one of those things. It was a funny story that came into my head one day and I thought about some of the contradictions in life: what we think is scary, what we perceive as scary, and what the reality is. It's a metaphor for that.

It's done like a Grimm's fairy tale so it's quite dark and very fable-ish.

It's about a whole village that's being terrorized by a monster and they hold a lottery to decide who's going to go see the monster. In this case Hannah (Jodelle Ferland) wins the lottery and goes off to meet him.

She doesn't have the seriousness about the whole adventure that she should and she doesn't listen to her father's instructions. At that point everything changes for her.

WD: How did you decide on the people you chose to work with.

DB: One of the producers is my husband, Richard Johnson, so that was an easy choice. I was working with someone who put me in contact with Jodelle Ferland (Twilight Sega: Eclipse) and DOP Jon Joffin (The Snow Walker).

They gathered a whole bunch of people with them. Jodelle made it easy to gather a crew together and Jon, being a veteran in the film industry had lots of connections and pulled together a really great camera crew. My husband works at an animation studio. He knows animators all over the city so it all came together.

WD: You mentioned metaphors. What do you want the audience to take away from your film.

DB: I think first and foremost, just have an entertaining experience. We put a lot of time into making sure it filmed really beautifully and all the costumes looked amazing. For me that's the most important part about watching a film: having an enjoyable experience.

And then secondly, there's a message underneath it all. If someone chooses to reach for that then that's good too.

WD: When will we be able to see your film.

DB: We won't be finished until September. That's because we're doing the CGI composting.

There's quite a lot involved in the process of making the whole animation. We want to make it photo real. Right now we have the monster almost complete and there are just a few more steps involved which are difficult ones, like putting the fur on and the lighting: rendering it.

And of course we still have to animate the monster so all that's going to take time.

WD: Do you have anything else in the works we can look forward to seeing.

DB: I'm writing a few different things so hopefully something else pans out. It's tough doing the whole development thing, but hopefully something will stick.

WD: You were able to make this film through the Hot Shots Short Film Contest. As far as the industry goes, in general, how do you find it. For up and coming filmmakers/writers/directors trying to get new projects out there.

DB: I'd say it's actually getting harder. Hot Shots is completely independent from any government agency. They're a private group who, because they have the connections, decided to support a short film every year. They go out and they gather donations and in kind support, and it really is the foundation of getting that going. And we put a lot in ourselves as well.

Kickstart, which was the other short film program, was cancelled so after that there really isn't a lot.

WD: Do you think this is the wave of the future in BC: making films independently.

DB: The way the arts funding looks in BC, it's not really looking good. It feels like... I mean I just applied to BC Arts Council so we'll see. Maybe they'll support me. Maybe I'll get some more money to finish my monster.

WD: How can we follow what you're doing.

DB: We're doing a blog and we're on facebook where we've got a lot of social activity. And we're also linking to Indiegogo, which is a fund raising site to raise money privately. So far with all the donations we're up to about $600 which is pretty good for $20/$50 donations.



Contests and community support like the Hot Shots Short Film Contest and such, are essential to keeping the filmmaking industry alive in Vancouver.

They've proven it can be done, for those who believe in the value of the arts.

With continued support and development for programs like these, we can build the industry and showcase the incredible talent in Canada.

Check out the web sites, donate, show your support, and go see the shows. This is one circumstance where individuals really can make a difference.

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