DIRECTING STUDENTS TO SCREEN SUCCESS

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by Natalia Manzocco 

No one loves their job more than Michael DeCarlo.

“The best thing about what I do is that you get to do it,” DeCarlo said. “It’s so fun, and it’s so rewarding.”

Though DeCarlo may bemoan the fact that there never seems to be enough time and money available to him, it’s clear that these are simply minor setbacks and are all part of doing what he loves so much — directing movies.

DeCarlo was part of a panel discussion organized by the Directors Guild of Canada at the Image Arts building Saturday afternoon. Jerry Cicciotti (Blood, Lives of the Saints), Michael McGowan (Saint Ralph), Jim Donovan (Pure), Charles Binamé (H20) and Lewin Webb (The Good Shepherd) were also on hand to share the tricks of their trade with the 50 film buffs in attendance.

The panel was in town for the annual Directors Guild of Canada awards. All the directors present were up for awards honouring outstanding direction of a feature film, mini-series or TV episode.

The six directors took turns screening their favourite clips from each of their nominated works and explaining the context in exact film-geek detail.

Cicciotti stepped up first to talk about bribing his producer with boxes of cannolli pastries in order to get the job directing Lives of the Saints, which follows the lives of an Italian immigrant family. He also discussed having to meet the film’s star, Sophia Loren, before being able to start work on the project, which led to several snarky “flying out to meet with Sophia” remarks from other directors throughout the rest of the discussion.

McGowan, meanwhile, focused on the climactic sequence of the Billy Elliot-esque drama Saint Ralph. Featuring delicately shot slow-motion footage of the title character (a boy track runner attempting the Boston Marathon) and anchored by a heartbreaking acapella performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, the clip managed to be moving — even without the rest of the film to back it up.

Jim Donovan elected to show a twitchy, rave-inspired dream sequence from Pure. “We had to wait until crew call to see who would show up, until all the extras filed in and started drinking our free beer,”said Donovan of the complex crowd scene that featured drag queens and fire-eaters. “The entire process of making the film was kind of like that, actually.”

DeCarlo took over the hot seat to explain how he achieved a sluggish, drugged-out feel for a murder scene in an episode of the Victorian-era drama Murdoch Mysteries, then watched with a “whoa, that’s wild!” grin as Cicciotti returned to describe the process of shooting the two-man drama Blood.

Since the original script was a stage play, Cicciotti shot the movie in 95-minute takes, never letting the actors call “cut.”

“It would get to the point where it wouldn’t be acting anymore,” he said. “I’d have the actors do (the script) over and over and over again until all the ‘acting’ goes out the window and it all starts to look very natural.”

The entire feature-length movie took only four days to shoot.

DeCarlo was as eager to discuss his latest opus as he was to discuss his background, sharing that he never went to school for a degree or diploma in film.

“I went to U of T for literature and philosophy,” he said. “And then I went to the Canadian Film Centre for a year. Mostly, though, I’ve just been shooting as much stuff as possible since I was a kid. I don’t really think that I’m missing out on anything because I didn’t go to film school, though.

“I don’t really think it’s like that. It’s basically just however you get to wherever you want to go.”

He did, however, have a few words of wisdom to pass on to the eager group of aspiring filmmakers in the room.

“Watch lots of films,” he said.

“And work really, really hard. Be very passionate and very committed, because it’s such a tough field to break into…. And, of course, watch lots of movies.”

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