By Nicole Schmidt
The Radio and Television Arts School of Media (RTA) has appointed Lance Weiler, an American film-maker and writer, as its distinguished producer-in-residence.
On Monday, Weiler led a discussion and lecture for Ryerson students, sharing his own experience about movie design in the 21st century. In an interview with The Eyeopener, Weiler revealed a lot more about himself and his interest in the industry.
Eye: When did you first become interested in film?
Lance Weiler: “I became interested in film when I was a teenager. I saved up my money from a paper route that I had and bought a Bolex spring wound camera, which is a 16mm camera. I started to make my own films. I would self process the film and make movies and things like that. Before that, I thought I was going to be a photographer or a photojournalist. I started taking pictures in third grade.”
Eye: What sparked your interest in film?
Lance Weiler: “I fell in love with film because it was 24 frames per second, and from there I started making movies, telling stories that way, cinematically. I eventually started to mix film, gaming, technology and explored what it meant to tell stories in the 21st century.”
Eye: What innovations have you made in the cinematic world?
Lance Weiler: “I made a movie called The Last Broadcast. We made it for $900. It was known as the first desktop feature film, so we made use of early technology that allowed you to edit on a home computer, at the time it was a really big deal… It went on to gross over $2.5 million worldwide.
Because we made the film for so little money, we took a lot of risks with it. One of which was when it came time to take the movie out theatrically we decided not to make it film print at the time, but we decided that we were going to figure out a way to get it into theatres. We started thinking about how we could do that and came up with satellite. We talked our way up through Loral Space and effectively convinced them to give us $2 million towards R&D and what became the first all-digital release of a motion picture.
Eye: What are your inspirations behind your desire to pursue film?
Lance Weiler: “It fundamentally comes from a desire to tell stories. I feel like I’m a storytelling agnostic. I don’t really care what medium it’s on, what screen it’s on, if it involves technology or not, I just like the ideas of stories and what they can actually do.”
Eye: What has been the most rewarding part of your career?
Lance Weiler: “I did a project called Laika’s Adventure. Laika’s adventure was inspired by my son, who’s four-and-a-half. We made this cool little plush robot. Inside her we put sensor technology so she could read air quality, temperature, geo location and all these things.
We took two fifth grade classes of at risk students: one class in Montreal that was French speaking and another class that was English speaking in L.A. Over a 10-day period they moved that robot over 2, 000 miles to over 56 different locations using math, science, geography, collaborate problem solving and creative writing.
At the end of the program in 2013, Laika (the name given to the robot by the kids) will be launched into space by NASA with all the kids art work, stories and data from the journey so that when (the kids) look up into the night sky, they’ll be reminded about how far their imaginations can carry them…That’s rewarding in a number of ways because it’s looking at storytelling as having a multiple layered approach.”
Eye: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face?
Lance Weiler: ”There are many. A lot of the ways that I’m looking at storytelling in the 21st century, and one of the reasons that I was so excited when I was invited to be a producer in residence here, was the opportunity to look at how story is fundamentally changing. Some of the biggest challenges for me have been looking at story and saying; how can I make it more meaningful? How can I make it more impactful? How can I make stories that have more value?”
Eye: What are your goals/plans for the future?
Lance Weiler: “I work with the World Economic Forum, sitting on different steering committees for them and looking at the future of content creation and digital governance. I’m really interested in how story can have more of a role not only in entertainment, but also in policy, and education.
Moving forward, I’m interested in how I can produce projects, or tell stories that have impact. I think that’s really a big goal. How can I do something with a story that can get people excited to learn, excited to share, or give them an opportunity to step away from their lives and escape if that’s what they’re looking for.”
Eye: You have a history in horror movie production, what draws you towards this genre of film?
Lance Weiler: “I love horror and science fiction because you can layer in a lot of subtext. They leave room for imagination, the creation of worlds and things that are otherworldly. You can layer that subtext back in and make statements that you might not be able to make in other forms.
I’ve been fascinated with science fiction and horror because a lot of the times it allows you to mine a dark part of your psyche or self that you normally wouldn’t.”
Eye: What types of things are you doing with Ryerson’s RTA program?
Lance Weiler: “Here in RTA, I’m helping to bring in a mixture of design thinking, narrative design and game mechanics. I’m here to challenge students and faculty to the idea that story can be pervasive.
Here at Ryerson, I’ll bring in certain methods that I work with, certain knowledge that I have from being in the trenches and being an innovator within the space, as well as share those ideas. I think what Ryerson has tasked me with is to come in and share some of that insight, or that knowledge of those skills with the students, and to challenge the students in ways that ignite their imaginations and give them an opportunity to step onto this new terrain.”
Eye: What advice would you give anyone hoping to pursue film?
Lance Weiler: “I would encourage people to pick up cameras and tell stories any way that they can. The more that you can tell stories the better…Find that thing that really gives you a degree of joy or happiness and really look to go after that.”