What was being in the challenge like? Did you get any conditions, bizarre requests for
your short or were you just thrown into the dark?
That first year there weren't as many stipulations. I think the theme was "fast cash" and since we were approaching thanksgiving, it seemed like a good idea to make it about eating a turkey. I suppose my mum got the most bizarre request when I called her up and asked how fast she could cook a turkey. It's a crazy challenge though. The video length limit that first year was 10 minutes and thankfully that's been reduced… Ours would have been MUCH better if it were 5 minutes long, but it's hard to budget editing time with a deadline like this… Especially back then when we shot everything on miniDV and you had to digitize in real time. That's approaching "back in my day" talk though, so I'll leave it at that.
Any memorable moments during the challenge?
I used to have a coffee maker that you poured the coffee through by hand, and at one point in the night I made a pot of coffee with the old coffee… Double coffee… It got us through the night, but I don't recommend it.
What happened after winning the 24/ONE challenge?
Well… A lot I suppose. We won the competition the first year it started. That was in 2006 and my team and I had just graduated from Film school, so we were all pretty... fresh I guess is the best way to describe it. Ian Day (the guy eating the turkey) went on to edit at a company in Calgary for many years until he branched off on his own. He's currently living in London England working as an editor and exploring the world in his free time. Felix Oltean (our cinematographer) moved to Vancouver to continue his film education and has gone on to shoot for CTV as well as a few feature length films. For me, Turkey Time oddly enough kicked off my career. Despite being completely un-agricultural, our little short ended up getting shown at the agriculture event "There's a Heifer In Your Tank" which led to working with agriculture groups and educators in Alberta for years to come. In fact I met with some of them for lunch today to discuss some upcoming projects. From those connection, I also recently became a board member with "The Institute for Free Range Learning", which simply put is an amazing group of people that started in agriculture and expanded into outside the box education (which I am a huge fan of). These connections have been invaluable in my career and I honestly don't think they would have come if it weren't for doing that crazy little 24 hour film competition 7 years ago.
On top of growing my business as a film maker, getting together with some friends to make that little comedy short in 2006 kickstarted our group into making our own comedy productions more regularly. We went on to enter other film festivals, we created shorts for 24/one again in future years and eventually we made a feature film that was officially selected & screened in EIFF. These things were pipe dreams when I signed up for 24/one that first year…
Nowadays I find myself combining my talents and pitching comedy to a lot of my clients to promote and educate about incredible causes. It's a dream come true for me if I'm totally honest. I just finished a sustainability awareness campaign for the University of Calgary, I did an anti hazing campaign for the University of Alberta before that, I'm still working in agricultural education… and I'm writing comedy to do it. I love that this is what I get to do and I value all the pieces that fit together to make it possible. 24/one was absolutely one of those pieces. One of the first in fact.
What does being from Edmonton have to do with your art?
Everything. We draw from what we know. I grew up in Edmonton and I love our arts. The festivals, the performances, I just love our people. I think there is this stigma that if you want to make it in the arts you have to go to a bigger city… I guess I have always thought I would rather make Edmonton the place that other people wanted to come. There is such a great pool of talent here though and not just Edmonton, Alberta as a whole. If I'm in need of a talented comedic actor for my next project, you'll find me at EIFF soaking in the locally made productions or I'll be down checking out a Rapid Fire show… There is no better casting session than actually going to a show. If you go out at all in Edmonton it doesn't take long to see that this city is full of talented people.
(From the short "Greenwash Gang", their 24/ONE film challenge that won for best director in 08: Tyler Fraser, Scott Townend, and Ian Day)
How would you describe a “Townend film”?
Fun I suppose. That perhaps isn't the best way to describe the finished products… but despite the genre of what I'm producing, the commonality in all my productions is that… well I get to make them. I bring on talented amazing people to work with me, I have amazing clients that are some how open to wacky ideas like a guy getting hit in the crotch over and over every time he throws a recyclable in the wrong bin with the tag ling "check your junk" at the end… and the cast, crew & clients inevitably end up more like friends than colleagues. I love what I do and I like to think that I make movie making fun.
Any one favorite short in particular?
I generally always like the last thing I finished or what I'm currently working on the most. It keeps me looking forward I guess. Once I start writing a new script It's usually the project that excites more than anything I've done. Right now I just finished a campaign of 9 videos quirky videos for the University of Calgary that each promote one thing people can do to be more sustainable. I'm really proud of them.
I’ve noticed that in your work, the emphasis is all about setting your characters up in
awkward, comedic scenarios. How do you go about choosing the backdrops in your
scenes? Do you choose them or they choose you?
I suppose it depends a lot on the video. We've done a lot of film competitions. 24/one many times & there is a 48 hour challenge in the Calgary Underground Film Festival as well that we've taken part in. In those cases, the scenario for shooting usually comes from our limitations. usually budget and time… In my opinion our best attempt at 24/one was with the theme "greenwash". Having done the challenge twice already we realized that our traditional shooting style was making it way harder on ourselves than it had to be. The video we made that year takes place in one location and is two shots with a jump cut in the middle. That whole concept came from "we always run out of time to edit". We shot the whole thing in a car with one microphone sitting in the middle and the camera on a tripod just in front of the bumper with no one behind it… since we needed everyone that showed up in the scene. Limitations may seem annoying, but they often provide the best inspiration. We won best director with "Greenwash Gang" and it actually taught us to shoot smarter.
What makes your style of film making different than others?
I don't know… That's a tough question to answer. Creatively we all come from different backgrounds so naturally we are drawing from different experiences. I happen to love comedy & the Alberta community, so I focus on that a lot. That doesn't mean I'm not interested in making a serious drama though. I guess I'm at the point in my career where I have the experience to deliver a high quality product, and yet every new project I take on summons up an almost annoyingly abundant passion that literally keeps me up at night. I am working on an script, an edit… just writing down ideas. When I get going on something I can't pull myself away from it. That's what goes into every project I take on. I love sitting down and working out ideas. I love taking those ideas and turning them into scripts. I love finding talent, directing, and just creating those ideas on screen. I love taking all that raw footage and editing it down to that original idea. I love delivering a final product knowing we made something from nothing. It's film making for the love of film making… and it's even better that I get to make my living doing it. I'm certainly not saying that's unique to me in the film community though. I think you have to be passionate to work in this field. It's hard work and there are definitely easier ways to make a buck. I just love what I do, I love making movies and I love being creative. I hope that's the case for other film makers… We all have a different take on creativity, but I hope there is a common love for the craft.
Any advice for our fellow 24/ONE challenge participants this year?
Create something that doesn't need the precursor "we only had 24 hours to make this". A good narrative, a creative idea and a simple solid execution is far superior to having graphics that could be better… but are impressive considering you only had 24 hours. Assume people are going to watch it without knowing you only had 24 hours. You're probably going to post it on youtube afterwards and no one reads the little blurbs on there. It should stand alone. Also, if you get some sleep… you're doing it wrong.
What film are you most excited to see at the EIFF?
Honestly… I just like going to the movies. Seeing local stuff is always great, especially when friends are involved in the productions, but it's the atmosphere of a film festival that draws me in. I'm not there to see one movie, I'm there to see friends and colleagues. To enjoy the fruits of our incredibility talented communities labor. To see new talent hitting the screen for the first time. It's an experience that goes beyond seeing one film. There are a few I'm excited about though… but I won't play favourites.
I agree Scott. In summary, the work and processes that bring the people together is somewhat almost as tasty as hot popped buttered popcorn.