Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Canadian Content: An Interview With Ron Langton

As some of you readers may know, I am working on my very first short film project. I'm learning all I can as I go. Because as Lloyd Kaufman says, "Just get out there an make a damn film!" I figured what better way to learn things than to not only read books/articles/watch how to videos on the subject, but ask some advice from friends who've done it. And one of my friends who is an indie filmmaker amd has been doing this for quote some time was kind enough to answer some questions. 

Ron Langton resides in Ottawa Canada currently, and is someone responsible for not only showing me "Curse of the Queer Wolf" (a movie that has scarred my psyche for life), but also subjecting me and his chums to his creative projects. And while he likes to have this air of mystery about himself, (thus not many pictures for this interview sadly), he knows what he's talking about. So I thought I'd share his wisdom with you and not horde it to myself. Enjoy!

First off, thank you very much Ron for being here on Kweeny Todd! So let’s get started shall we? What made you want to be a filmmaker? What lead you down this crazy path and kept you here?

Playing in and creating my own worlds led me at an early age to acting. The opportunity to become other people and explore their experiences in a way beyond what I was already doing was really exciting to me. As I developed as an artist, the desire to share what I explored internally with others led me to learning whatever mediums would help me do that. Film/video is such a unique medium as it weaves so many art forms together into something that can be so much more than the sum of its parts.

What’s your favourite film project you’ve been involved with so far?

Each project is such a different experience, it's tough to compare them in that way. However if you forced me under duress to answer, I guess I'd say... As I feel like I'm still developing as an artist, the project that burns the most with me are the projects I'm working on presently. That where my active passion flows. They are the way forward. They are the ones with the mysteries to reveal and the lessons to teach me right now. What are those projects? So much of this game/art/business is in presentation. These projects are still in the oven, not ready for tasting. Yet I can say I'm working on a feature length modern fantasy piece and a short spy mystery piece.

What’s it like being a Canadian filmmaker? What’s the community like in Ottawa?

Every filmmaker's struggle shares common themes, but is ultimate a journey unique to them. Trying to bind those experiences into the frame of what it is to be a Canadian filmmaker sounds like it would make an interesting film. I'd watch it. Or maybe write a book on the subject. Short answer: It's nice.

The community here in Ottawa is amazing and continually surprising me. The wealth of talent here in a city that doesn't have a strong identity (yet) of being a film/tv hub is staggering. Being able to work with passionate individuals who believe in the art and commit to honing their role within it, it's inspiring. I expect as more and more projects come rolling out of Ottawa that we're going to see Ottawa become a bigger name within the industry.

What are the major obstacles you face when taking on a new project?

Every filmmaker has a weak spot in the process or at least a part of the process they enjoy less. I think most of us though would all agree at some point to having frustration with actually getting the project underway. Aligning the funds and resources and talent to actually get a film off the ground and into production can be one of the most excruciating experiences in film-making.

Everything about taking on a new project can be a major obstacle. If you don't have the time and commitment of talented individuals and the resources to realize the project, you're sunk before you start. Keep in mind, I don't mean talent solely in terms of cast. I mean D.O.P. I mean props, costuming, lighting, sound, and everything else that is essential to making your vision of the script come alive.

What are the major things you keep in mind when starting a new film project? What should be considered important during Pre Production?

Take note of what you have. A good script (hopefully), a writer to make adjustments as needed, maybe you have access to equipment, maybe you already have some people cast, some good people to fill key crew positions.

Then look at what you need. How much crew, how much time, what locations need to be secured, what needs to be made or bought, how many roles, Get at least a rough picture of everything. No matter how specific you are, it will change, so rough is fine for the moment. Then start hunting. Depending on the size of your project maybe you can secure everything you need on your own, but it's always helpful to have at least one other person who's primary role is in the organization of the production and not in the production itself. In larger productions, it's a necessity as a filmmaker to hand over responsibilities to others. Someone to handle props, Someone to handle wardrobe, locations, extras, etc...

Start with the top level people and move down. Don't start hunting for production assistants and extras, Start with getting the key people who are going to be the engine of your production. A production manager to schedule and organize, an Assistant Director to help keep things running on set through productions. People responsible for what ever departments are necessary depending on the size and scope of your project. Makeup, Special Effects etc..

Once you've got your brain-trust together, hold some meetings. An artistic meeting to discuss what the film's about. It sounds simple almost foolish because they all read the script, right? Yet the script is just a skeleton and you're all working to give it the meat and flesh that will bring it to life. If the person dressing your sets thinks it explores the dark side of the psyche and the wardrobe folk think it's a tale of redemption and you wanted a farce about relationships, you end up with a a buffalo skeleton with a snake head and crab legs. Sure maybe those interpretations happen to work out, but rather than guess, talk. Share your vision or get your director (if you're not directing) to share theirs. Talk about the visual style. Talk about the message and the feel. Talk about the character arcs and personalities. Talk about what the audience is going to take away when the lights go up. Tell them that the toaster on page 16 should really look like an old 1950's waffle iron because it links up with the way you see scene 7. Talk. Read through the script and talk. I like to have auditions done by this point because my choice in cast and their interpretation of the characters can change artistic choice s in the film, beyond wardrobe obviously.

The other meeting you need to have is a logistic/organizing meeting. What do we need? How much time do we need? Who do we need? Where do we get it? Who's getting it and when?

Plan it out and once you have it planned out. Schedule it out. By this point I like to have a finalized script and a storyboard or at the very least a shot list. If you're new to film-making/directing, don't just grab the shots you absolutely need. Try to grab a few more general shots of each scene that cover the actions and dialogue. Get multiple takes of everything no matter how perfect one take is. Things go awry or things turn out different than you envisioned. Planning for extra shots and having extra takes gives you leeway in the editing room. Right now though it helps build a shooting schedule. What scenes/shots are you shooting what day and where. Who's needed there? What cast? what crew? What props? What time? If you're new to shooting,know that you will need more time than you think you do.

What is the hardest thing you have to deal with during Production itself?

That depends on the day. Whether it's a time constraint at the location or not finding the chemistry needed in performance, fighting to get the lighting right or solving a technical issue. Ultimately you need to give yourself the time you need to get what you want and you need to get it in the time you have. No matter what the challenge, you're always against the clock in some way. Understanding the speed of production and how fast you shoot, can make for a more accurate shooting schedule which helps with this. You'll still go over though.

Also I will say this. Never ever underestimate the importance of good sound. Sound will make or break your movie. People can and have watched “bad looking” films with good sound. People will walk out/ turn off bad sound in seconds.

What about Post-Production? What are some things that really need to be considered during Post?

Sound. Sound. Sound. That includes music if you're using it. Don't get me wrong, editing is crucial. Having amazing visuals is what you should be aiming for. Having them flow together is the goal. Editing a film should be like composing a song: taking melodies, instruments and elements (scenes characters, moments, themes) and weaving them together so each is given its proper focus and place at the right moment so as to carry the listener/watcher through the rise and fall of the tune.

The reason I mention sound is that it's the thing that trips most beginners up. It needs at least as much attention as video does and often it doesn't get it. Sound goes beyond clean audio takes of dialogue. It's background and environmental, it's every effect in the film. Sound adds realism to the world you create, power to the actions that happen with in it. Music adds untold emotional depth and vibrance to what transpires on screen. Without it or with bad choices made about it, the best work can seem like garbage.

Where do you find funding for projects? Do you think grants are helpful? Is funding needed at all, or does it depend in the film you're making?

Wherever I can. Talk to people who support the arts. Talk to people in the industry. Talk to places that rent gear or hold lessons on film-making. Talk to friends. Talk to people. However I find the best way to find money is to make more films. Start as low budget as you can and use the platform of showing off that piece to network and find those who will help make something bigger.

Grants can be a huge help, but it depends a lot on where you are and what you're working on. They are almost universally though going to involve a fair bit of waiting and likely some rejection. Apply for them of course if you've got something that will work, but don't put all your eggs in that basket. Keep on developing and working on other things as well.

Is funding needed? Depends on what you have access to or what you can talk you way into getting for free, how many people you know who are passionate about the project you want to do, what equipment you'll need. Money can buy you whatever you were lacking, allows you to pay the people who dedicate themselves to the project, and theoretically it can help improve and ensure the level of quality you want in all aspects of the production. ...theoretically.

As the technology becomes cheaper though, if you're clever and creative and good with time management and have access to talented people, the ability to make a a great film doesn't need to require a lot of cash.

You’ve done a little of everything as a filmmaker. Acting, writing, directing, editing. What is the most challenging thing about film-making and which one do you enjoy the most?

I've filled about every role on a production set with the exception I think of wardrobe. They're all enjoyable. I think the most challenging part of film-making is that initial step, the one takes it from being a script to an assembled team in pre-production moving towards the first day of filming.

I enjoy all the roles but directing and acting are my favourites. In a way they're the ones that touch every art and part of the film, every part of that experience of another world, another reality, another story.

Do you find it difficult to find a good crew to help you make a film? Have you ever worked with new bees, or do you just work with seasoned film people?

It can be difficult to find crew. I've worked with many newbies and their passion can be a great resource. Hell, in spite of my broad range of experience on a wide range of sets and budgets, many people might still consider me a newbie.

While there are a lot of common conventions on set, every film runs a little differently. That's why when working with newbies , it's important to outline clearly what's expected of them and how this production team is going to work together. As long as every treats everyone with the proper level of respect and everyone is dedicated to the work, everything runs smoothly. ...until it doesn't.

What is the lowest budget film you’ve ever made? How did that get off the ground?

I've made a few for next to nothing. Less than a hundred dollars. How did they get off the ground? Willpower. Commitment. Bravery. Occasionally ignorance will do in place of bravery, but it's not highly recommended. The specifics aren't really relevant so much as the knowledge that we wanted to do it so we went out and did it. Mistakes and concerns and things lacking, be damned. You learn a lot that way but it can be dangerous.

What is the highest budget film you’ve ever made? Do you find it easier to have more money or less money involved?

I've been involved with big budget shows and I've been on the set of big budget films. It's never the amount of money. It's how it's spent and who's in control. Yes, money does make some things possible that just aren't available to you any other way, but as much as some money can give you freedom and opportunity, some money can constrain you in other ways. Most of the time it's the same money.

Do you have your own film company? Do you know what’s involved setting up a film company?

Yes. The details of setting up your own though depend on where you're located and what sort of work you're looking to do.

What are some key pointers you’ve learned making films you wish you knew when you first started? Help a noob out here.

There's a hundred things I could say, a thousand more details. Film-making involves the mastery of a whole lot of skills and tasks so without a specific focus, I'll give a few general tips.

SOUND. If you don't have a true sound person, at least have someone listening to the audio to make sure it is clean. 

Storyboard. Plan out all your shots.

If you're new to film-making, make something small on your own first. Play with the equipment and the ideas before you delve into a real project. Experiment at least a little.

If you can, rehearse with your actors. If they're true actors, they have worked on their characters and in working with them you can find gold in the script that you may not have seen. At the very least if time allows, let them have a few takes on set to explore different ideas.

Continuity. He's wearing the hat. He's not wearing the hat. She punched him with the right hand, her left hand is bloody.

On set, you are the answer to everyone's questions. If you're a small production, you may also be filling multiple roles and fixing a lot of their problems too. Be prepared to be in command of the ship. Make sure your crew know their roles. If possible have an a.d. so you can divvy up some of that responsibility. Dealing with every issue can impact your ability to realize your vision in the moment. Don't panic, but be prepared to improvise and adapt.

Have answers. Ask yourself Why? Why am I shooting this shot? Why is that on screen? What is this scene saying? Why is it important? Why does it work here? in this part of the film? How should it work? The more you know about your film and what it's about, the better prepared you'll be for the onslaught and the eventual changes you'll need to make on the fly. 

Don't direct and star in your first film unless you have lots of money and/or time and/or experience. Or if you prefer, don't take all the responsibility for everything in the film. It's your baby and you love it, but it takes a village to raise a child. Whether or not you believe that about children, it's fairly true for films. This is a collaborative art form. If you try to do everything, something is not going to get the attention it deserves.

While time and complications and differing ideas will try to change your vision as it gets made, don't be afraid to stand against them and take the time to get what you think you need. That said, understand that circumstances aren't going to allow for you to get everything exactly the way you planned, that change is inevitable and sometimes brings about new ideas that make your film better. In short form: Don't comprise integrity, but don't bog down the project. Improvise and adapt to new situations, ideas, and opportunities, but don't let go of your control or of the grander perspective what the film could be. Walk the line.

Okay I got one more for you: What is the worst movie you've ever seen?

That's tough. Even if you divided by genre and by time period, it's tough. Sometime the worst movie is the worst simply because the time in life when it was viewed, or the people you watched it with. It's also difficult because I have watched so many films. I even make a practice of watching bad films mst3k style. I guess for me the way to qualify the worst film would not be the one that was the worst technically or artistically, but rather the one that disappointed me the most. Even then I'd have a hard time making a list of those films. Ultimately unless I'm having a critical conversation about the film, I don't like putting negative sentiment out there about people's work. It's hard enough to get anything out there.

Thanks so much for your time Ron! Feel free to pimp your stuff out here. Give the readers links to your work so we can all stalk you and check out your awesomeness! 

You're welcome. I'm happy to help out fellow filmmakers and those interested in learning. Hopefully I'll have a new site up later this year that will detail the projects I'm getting off the ground. For now I'll settle for being an offline enigma. 

I did however get a fun fan-made trailer he did recently that he was kind enough to share:


  1. Great interview! I've been following your little updates on Facebook about the film you're working on and I'm über excited for you.

  2. Thanks! I am pretty excited myself. :D


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