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Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production
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Canada’s Directors: A Look at the Country’s Best and Brightest Rising Talent
13/10/2022
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London, UK
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Canada’s most exciting up-and-coming directors talk to LBB’s Josh Neufeldt about the exciting work they've made, and why they direct
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Within the industry, there is no doubt that ‘director’ is one of the coolest, most prestigious titles available. When looking at an amazing spot, people always look for the director. When planning a video, creative teams think long and hard about which director they want to bring in. And when a campaign does well, a good director can usually claim some of the thanks. 

To get there, it takes years of practise, learning and work - all in the pursuit of honing the craft. For the fortunate few, the result of this effort is becoming a big name within the industry. This can be said of any country’s advertising scene, and Canada is no exception. However, what people might not know about Canada’s industry, is that there is a wealth of talented directors who aren’t big names… yet. (Although, with the work they’re putting out, that could soon change). It’s for this reason that LBB spoke to some of the industry’s best directors on the up and up, to learn more about what it takes to direct incredible work. 

LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Alfredo’s Films’ Adeel Shamsi, Black Box Productions’ Ben Goloff, Boldly’s Chrris Lowe and Evan Bourque, Fela’s LeSean Harris, Merchant’s Jason Jeffrey and Allie Yonick, Untitled Films’ TAYLOR REID (Nicholas Taylor and Paul Reid), Sparks Productions’ Hubert Kang, Asymetric’s David Findlay and Vanessa Gauvin-Brodeur, Circle Productions’ Adrian Vieni, Impossible Studios' Mike Rae and The Deli's Sagi Kahane-Rapport, with the hopes of learning more. 


Adeel Shamsi
Alfredo Films



Why I’m a director

It's hard to pinpoint one moment. Since I was a kid, I was obsessed with films and tv shows - they were my happy place. I think it came from me having an urge to contribute to that world and give back by also telling stories and creating entertaining visuals like the ones I loved.

Most significant projects I've worked on

The one that sticks out for me is a short documentary campaign I filmed in Turkey, at the beginning of 2020. It was for a charity and we interviewed Syrian refugees that had left their country due to the civil war. It was the most challenging project I’ve ever been a part of because I was unfamiliar with documentary filmmaking. I learned more on that project than I have on any other. Just the adrenaline of being in the moment and having to make multiple snap decisions based purely on instincts gave me new respect for this craft. It was also the most rewarding project I’ve been a part of: being allowed to tell the stories of individuals who want to share their resilience with the world.




Ben Goloff
Black Box Productions



Why I’m a director

I wanted to work in film production ever since I realised film was actually something a person can study at school. Like many other budding young filmmakers, I dreamed of being an ‘artiste’ - working in Hollywood and directing feature films. But, my experience working in the industry led me to pursue a slightly different career path as an editor. I completely fell in love with all aspects of post-production, and I realised that - more than being an artist - I just loved making audio visual content. The more experience I got editing other people’s content, the more I thought to myself that I could do it better if I just directed it. So, directing was more something I fell into, to have more control over the content I was editing.

Most significant projects I've worked on

Everyone defines significance in their own way. For some, it’s a question of visibility. For others, it’s production value. But for me, it was the first broadcast TV commercial I directed with a large professional cast and crew. It was a spot for a sports betting website, showing a satirical representation of the sordid world of underground mud wrestling. We pulled in every favour we had owed to us, and worked like dogs to make it happen. We painted a kiddie pool gold, filled it with mud, and put two Playboy bunnies in there - letting them battle it out. The whole experience was so much fun, and the cast and crew were in stitches the entire time. Even though this was about eight years ago, the final product still holds up to this day as one of my proudest achievements.



Chrris Lowe
Boldly



Why I’m a director

I had just completed my social work degree, and I was taking a lot of portraits and shooting a ton of BTS for my friends at the time - many of whom worked in the film industry. That’s when I was really exposed to set life. I remember being super curious about the inner workings of a set, and intrigued by the role of a director. I think that’s how it all started. Coming from a Caribbean background, there is an emphasis on education and academic pursuits, so I didn’t really know that a creative career of any sort was a viable option until I saw it for myself. Being on sets and seeing examples really helped. Once I was exposed to the possibility of turning my curiosity with people and storytelling, and my ability to communicate, into a sustainable career as a director, it put me on a path to do just that.

Most significant projects I've worked on

I care deeply about all the projects I’ve done and quite a few stand out to me, but for the sake of space and time, I’ll mention two. ‘Portrait of Illumination’ and ‘Protest’.

‘Portrait of Illumination’ is a series of four pieces I directed for Rethink Breast Cancer. I had the opportunity to interview and capture four women who spoke about their experience with breast cancer, in an effort to develop more resources for Black, indigenous and people of colour. The stories shared were deeply impactful, and working with those women has stayed with me ever since.

‘Protest’ by Haviah Mighty is another that comes to mind. A music video I co-directed with Kit Weyman about the Black Canadian experience, the project was largely inspired by the disturbing murder of George Floyd. The Black experience is often presented to us violently, and with little care for how it affects our nervous systems. With ‘Protest’, Kit and I were intentional about telling this story in a way that feels good to our nervous systems, yet still communicates the severity of the issue. I feel like we succeeded in doing that.



Evan Bourque
Boldly 



Why I’m a director

Before directing, I was working as a cinematographer. I was mainly interested in the technical side of filmmaking - not necessarily focused on the story behind the visuals. That began to shift when I started dabbling in screenwriting: crafting characters and dialogue. I find that world-building process to be really challenging, but also a lot of fun. Because I usually have a pretty specific vision for the things I write, I started directing them - quickly realising that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I think that all happened when I was about 30.

Most significant projects I've worked on

I find the most significant projects for me are the ones I get to help shape early on. I find that they can be really rewarding at the end, as the process of collaboration comes full circle. I also love writing dialogue. It’s one of my favourite parts of what I do, so I find it fulfilling when I get to write my own personal projects or help augment commercial scripts by adding lines.

And a music video I did a couple years ago still feels significant for me. It’s called ‘Fortaleza’ by the artist Golden Ears, and it features an older man pursuing a woman. I’m not exactly sure how old our lead was, but I’d guess he was in his 70s. It’s significant to me because I think people in that generation can sometimes get written off by society - even though they need connection and purpose as much as anyone else - so I really enjoyed exploring that in a lighthearted and charming way. And more than that, working with the lead was a great experience. He’s a very genuine person who pursued acting later in life, which I find really inspiring.




LeSean Harris
Fela 



Why I’m a director

Being a quiet person, I’ve always felt I could show others better than I could tell them. In high school, I realised film was the perfect medium to do just that. In grade 11, I took a media arts class where they screened ‘Run Lola Run’ for the class. It was the first time I watched something that seemed to abandon the ‘rules’. It was visually immersive and experimental in its approach to storytelling, and that made me realise film was the best way for me to express myself. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a director.

Most significant projects I've worked on

I think some of my latest projects have been the most fulfilling. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work on short films for Lego, OLG and MLB - all of which have been some of the most significant projects due to their subject matter. At Fela, the mantra is ‘Own your culture, tell your stories’, and I feel those projects do exactly that. Through those short films, I’ve realised I have a real interest in revisionist history and offering a different angle on subjects that are typically viewed in a different light. For Lego, it was showing how a toy, synonymous with childhood play, can be used as a vehicle for inclusion. For the work with OLG and MLB, the subject of baseball in southwest Ontario exposes a socioeconomic truth most Canadians don’t want to admit. As a director, telling these stories comes with a different sense of responsibility. 




Jason Jeffrey
Merchant



Why I’m a director

I got interested in film at a young age. My dad was a cinematographer and worked on TV shows in Edmonton, Alberta, where my brother and I grew up. We would visit him on set as much as we could. I think the first moment I thought about becoming a director was when I saw ‘The Big Lebowski’ in high school. After that, I got interested in comedy, but was really intimidated by the idea of trying to make people laugh. It seemed like such a crazy thing to shoot for, because humour is so subjective. In my work, I try to intrigue - first and foremost - and to put something interesting in front of people that doesn’t only rely on a punchline landing.

Most significant projects I've worked on

The past year has been really exciting for me. I got to direct a Google campaign, which came out in July, and have two Goldfish campaigns coming out over the next little while. It’s been amazing to get shortlisted on bigger projects and pitch against directors I really admire. I can’t wait to keep going! 




Allie Yonick
Merchant



Why I’m a director

I always loved watching movies as a kid/teen with my parents, whether it was a sick day watching Barbara Streisand movies with my mom, or ‘Field of Dreams’ or any music documentary with my dad. As I got older, the merge of my parents' taste and mine became similar, and that was a true bonding experience where the dynamic of the parental/child relationship dissolved and we could talk about and experience things together through these films. 

Most of the best films I've watched, weirdly, are from my dad, where we'd rent international films that opened me up to see what the world outside of North America was like. It's funny really; my memory became sharper because of watching certain movies with my parents/friends and discussing them afterwards. That joy from the conversation about an actor, plot, location or even just the visual of the cover was this dissolving of the dynamic in any of these relationships. It wasn't personal, but just universal and quite freeing. From there, I was enchanted by how a movie could stick with me and was excited about how it combined visuals, writing, wardrobe, music - all of my favourite things - into one beast of a machine.

Most significant projects I've worked on

Honestly, the ones I make with my friends (the ones for no money). With those projects, there's something so honest, and the energy behind them is so pure. In my eyes, this means it always ends up being the best work. The projects that I've shot in different countries have also always been significant, because they serve as a new entry point into getting to know a different country through the experience working with locals, going on location scouts and casting, etc. This experience grounds you in a way that vacationing or sight seeing can’t replicate. 




Nicholas Taylor and Paul Reid (TAYLOR REID)
Untitled Films



Why I’m a director

Nicholas> I think I first knew I wanted to be a director when I was in high school, after falling in love with this world through films and documentaries. People like Werner Herzog, Harmony Korine, Sofia Coppola, Derek Cianfrance, and Gaspar Noe blew my mind when I was growing up. I originally fell in love with the film side of this world, but as the years went on, I fell in love with the commercial industry. Directing in this space is a really cool artform that allows us to try things, tackle very different projects and go deep into different worlds. Both Paul and I love the competition, the intensity and the fast pace of the commercial industry. It’s a special way to travel the world, tell important stories and work with amazing people. We never take it for granted. 

Paul> I realised I wanted to be a director from a young age, when I began shooting skateboarding and snowboard films at the age of 13. My parents had friends who owned shows in the TV industry, and I would visit their office and shoots. I always aspired to grow up to be like them and work in the industry someday. 

Most significant projects I've worked on

Nicholas> We have a blast on basically everything we work on. We learned early on how important it is to have fun. I think it translates to a positive and enjoyable environment on set for everyone! When things feel positive and everyone is having a good time, it also makes it easier to collaborate creatively with partners. 

Two recent projects stand out. The first is Subaru, ‘Ready From Factory’. The client gave us a lot of creative freedom. We were planning the shoot around a professional rally car, and thought it would be cool to shoot part of the spot with a helicopter, instead of simply using a drone. So, we wrote the helicopter into the treatment and boom, next thing you know, we have a helicopter blasting through the sky - tracking a car in rural Quebec. It was awesome to see an idea that seemed crazy come to life in a big way. 

The second would be a recent broadcast campaign we did with Bauer Hockey. We had the opportunity to shoot with the best female hockey players in the world. Bauer was very passionate about wanting to make something meaningful to support equality in women’s hockey. We wrote the campaign with the Bauer team, and I think we created something with a strong message that we were proud to put into the world. 

Paul> Working on the Air Canada ‘Air-to-Air’ video was a unique job that holds a special place in our careers. Both my parents worked for Air Canada for decades, and I’ve always appreciated their branding, creative, and production. Shooting commercial planes from camera planes and helicopters with only feet between them was a shoot I’ll never forget. This project also helped put us on the map, which led us to a bunch of our other jobs such as the ‘Porsche Warehouse’ campaign.  

The other project that stands out would be our EA Sports’ NHL project with Auston Matthews. Nick and I bring a PS4 on our work trips and play NHL religiously. It was amazing to share the ice with Auston Matthews as the cover athlete for NHL 20. We also shot with Snoop Dogg in his LA studio. That was a surreal experience. 





Hubert Kang
Sparks Productions



Why I’m a director

I have always wanted to be a director. I started out as a documentary photographer, but filmmaking and directing have always been that extra set of tools that have allowed me to tell stories and share experiences in a richer way. Creating compelling visuals is always my first instinct, but I love that in directing, I get to collaborate with many talented folks to touch on music, sound design, performance, art, choreography, and all kinds of fun stuff!

Most significant projects I've worked on

A project I directed for Destination Canada in 2021 really spoke to me. It was a very meaningful commercial, because it was Canada's first attempt to re-open the country to tourism after covid-19. I was very honoured to be given the opportunity, knowing that the campaign may help many small businesses in Canada bounce back from the lows of the pandemic. As a first-generation immigrant, it was also beyond my wildest imagination that my voice got to represent Canada to the world. 

Aside from that, I directed a fun commercial for Travel Alberta. This was super fun because it was one of those amazing situations where all my experiences in life meshed perfectly for the project. I was a B-boy a long time ago, and loved the music and culture in the hip-hop scene in the ‘90s. We got to work with two very talented dancers, and we danced all around the cities - shutting down bridges and climbing stadium rooftops. I got to relive my ‘90s B-boy dream!




David Findlay
Asymetric



Why I’m a director

I had made ski films in my youth, and when I got to university, I took a film studies 101 class. The professor was this incredible walking and breathing encyclopaedia type - he gave three hour and thirty minute lectures with no notes or clips - and was completely riveting. He single-handedly turned me onto film, and having made these ski videos as a kid, I knew the fun of working on something for a long time and then having something to share.

Most significant projects I've worked on

The most ambitious project I have done is my most recent short film, ‘Lay Me by the Shore’. We partially shot on 65mm for a period of seven days, with a large ensemble cast of young non-actors. It premiered in Berlin and then at TIFF. As far as commercials go, I've been fortunate enough to make some work I love for brands like eBay, Asics, Mazda, Nissan and Gymshark.




Vanessa Gauvin-Brodeur
Asymetric



Why I’m a director

Growing up in the ‘90s and early 2000s, I didn’t even think it was a possibility. The lack of female representation in the industry and the type of movies I grew up with, (big budget blockbusters), made me think it wasn’t in my reach or that you needed to be a complete tech geek to have a go at it. I’ve always loved and wanted to tell stories for a living, and decided to pursue a career in journalism. After a few years, it felt too ‘formal’ and corporate for me and my creative personality. So, I moved to work in a creative position at an advertising agency. After that, one thing led to another, and I started directing very small, low-budget ads in-house. I loved it instantly, and continued pushing in that direction - eventually quitting my job to pursue directing full time. Ultimately, I realised I wanted to become a director when I saw that opportunity was something that could become a reality. 

Most significant projects I've worked on

I am currently working on a campaign to bring awareness to domestic violence. Not only is it a subject that is of the utmost importance to me, but it is also a beautiful, visually striking spot. To me, these types of projects which string both the social and creative chords are priceless and so important.

Another significant project I’ve worked on (and is currently in post), is a personal project of mine: a documentary about the rise and fall of the small asbestos mining town in Quebec. I spent a few years of my life on this project and had to get out of my comfort zone while documenting these people - whose lives are very different from mine. It was all about finding the beauty where it can be hard to see. 




Adrian Vieni
Circle Productions



Why I’m a director

Truthfully, I found my way into this world by chance. I’ve always been a musician and I dreamed of working in the music industry. During university, a friend introduced me to an EP named Geoff McLean, who was kind enough to take me on as an intern at his company, Vision Film Co. With my background in music, I was seeking any way into the music industry I could find, and it just so happened that Vision was producing all the biggest music videos in Canada for all my favourite bands. It was a crash course in production - working in the office and on set as a PA, and learning from some of the best directors in that field. Selfishly at first, I really wanted to use that internship to meet artists and record label folks, but during that summer I fell head over heels in love with filmmaking. I bought my first camera and dove in - starting with creating live videos for any bands that were passing through and trying to forge relationships that would lead to bigger work opportunities.

Most significant projects I've worked on

One of my most memorable projects was a two-month long venture for Destination Canada. I got to travel from coast to coast, shooting five different spots with the best crew (DP Devin Karringten, AD Darryl Faria, AC Mark Moher, creatives Andrew Caie and Christian Horsfall, and producer Jon Pottins). It was the first project where I got to really explore a style of work that spoke to me and came naturally. Capturing raw energy, emotion, and beautiful scenery was an amazing experience. 

I was also lucky enough to get that same crew back together for a Canon campaign the following year, which is still probably my favourite piece of commercial work to date. That’s where I first got to work with Jessie Reyez, who I’ve had the pleasure of creating a bunch of other films with since then. 

Personal work is still and always will be what keeps me going though, and is always the most rewarding. From photography to docs and short films, it’s what really scratches that creative itch. A couple years ago, I put out a piece called ‘The Skin I’m In’ - a collaborative project with a bunch of other artists of all different disciplines. Exploring the conversation about self-perception and acceptance, this project also got a ‘Vimeo Staff Pick’, which definitely felt rewarding.



Mike Rae
Impossible Studios



Why I’m a director

Rewind to 2004 when the first GoPro was released. I had to convince my parents to let me buy the small sports camera with my own money - made from years of delivering papers around the neighbourhood. Once I had the camera in my hands, I began to realise how many stories surround us in everyday life. At the time I was heavily immersed in downhill ski racing, and naturally gravitated towards the park - chasing my friends over jumps and rails. After winning a few video contests I realised that I could actually get paid to do this.

Fast forward a few years and I had begun playing quarterback for my high school football team, where I developed a knack for delegating. I think it was really at this time when my video and sports backgrounds truly pushed me to direct. As time passed, I pushed to translate my natural, organic docu-style into crafting for brands. There's something beautiful about everyday interactions, emotions, and how we can communicate them to audiences.

Most significant projects I've worked on

It's so hard to say 'this was the project', you know? I think almost all people in this industry would say every project has shaped their style and outlook on how they approach their next jobs. We spend years and years crafting our voices - driven by pure passion. I will say that each project provides something different. Sometimes it's the experiences and process, and sometimes it's the satisfaction of seeing things come together in the editing room. Ultimately, I think the most important projects are the ones that audiences connect the most to.



Sagi Kahane-Rapport
The Deli 



Why I’m a director

Since I was a kid filming action movies on my Mom’s flip-phone, I’ve had the insatiable bug to create. I love how directing calls on a mix of technical and creative strengths, and as a bonus, you get to do it with your friends. Collaborating with people whose talents, perspectives, and ideas differ from my own makes directing feel like stirring through a melting pot of ideas. And, if you pour it out in the right way, you make something stronger than the sum of its parts.


Most significant projects I've worked on

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work on some really cool projects with brands like Google, Hennessy, Patron, Google, and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. A recent highlight was directing a national broadcast spot with the Toronto Raptors. As a frequent park pick-up player, getting to direct some of the Raptors and tell a story with them was both a ton of fun, and a personal goal of mine. Plus, getting to see the spots before every game this season? Priceless!

I’m also the creative director and creator of an ongoing, travelling installation piece called 'Shadowlight: The Cattle Car Experience'. It’s a film that is projected in 360 degrees inside a travelling, period accurate replica cattle car from WW2. Depicting two Holocaust survivor’s experiences inside just such a train car, audiences view the film in 360 degrees from inside the car itself, as it is projected on the walls around them. Last year, more than 30,000 people saw it in an international tour that took it across the United States and Canada. Our tour is ongoing, with another year’s worth of stops across the continent already planned.






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