Dean Lastoria, who's in charge of New Students and Retention for the SCA, touches base with a few recent graduates.
Meet film maker and writer, Aerlan Barrett.
You did a lot of work with film organizations outside of SFU while you studied here — how did that engagement impact you as a filmmaker?
This was critical. I was invited as a Step-Student to run the gear room at FAVA (Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta), which was instrumental in my education. Spending hours talking with filmmakers, organizing gear, and being around equipment helped shape my sense of the service end of film. It’s way easier to learn technology with a room full of equipment to play with; books can only go so far. I was also involved with Summer Visions, which has become The Indie Filmmakers Lab: a two week filmmaking intensive for youth aged 14 to 19. It was terrific building my practice as a teacher and stepping into other artists' creative processes. The challenge of crafting a fully produced short in two weeks with these young people was instrumental in me letting go of my baggage. It’s astonishing how much resistance comes from ourselves. Seeing young people JUST DO IT is endlessly inspiring and it's one of the only ways to put a mirror to your own process. The only real way to change your film making is to change your process.
You finished in December — what have you been up to since?
I’ve been working as a freelance editor/colourist on short films and features. I recently directed/DoP’d a documentary in China, which was a terrific challenge. I've been studying acting at VanArt's part time classes and I was invited to work as an instructor to write and direct four short films with their acting students. I was fortunate to have some of my photography exhibited at the University of Alberta in May and blessed to be invited as a reader for Praxis / Whistler Screenwriting Awards. I also stepped into the classroom at SFU as a first and second year film substitute teaching assistant throughout the semester, as well.
What’s next for you?
I hope to launch my own production company, Pothos Pictures, to unify all my work. I have two short films to be released in the fall. The Cigarette, an experimental documentary and, Grant, a narrative short, under the name of my new company. I have a new narrative short in preproduction, due to be filmed in July. I was also awarded the Telus Story Hive grant to photograph a music video this month in Alberta. It’s very important to push my dream projects forward and work on the 'big picture'. My dream, ever since I was a little boy, was to become a feature film director for a living. My hope is that Pothos Pictures can help move me toward this becoming a reality. As Rob Groeneboer once said, “the person who wins is the person who gets to keep doing this.”
Any advice to future students?
My advice is to take the time to learn. That means working at this thing every day because it’s a hell of a lot easier that way. When I asked Andrew Scholotiuk, my first teacher and mentor in Edmonton, if I should buy a camera he said: “Yeah you can buy a camera. It’ll cost you a few thousand dollars, you’ll maybe shoot one movie on it, and it’ll be out of date within a few years. Or you can by a book for twenty bucks and learn how to use every camera.” The only way to get paid to do something is be really good at it. Reading all the critical texts (*spoiler: those are the ones your teachers give you), doing all the readings, volunteering on every set, offering your services as an editor, camera person, gaffer, colourist, AD, or whatever, is the only option. The beauty of film is that there are so many areas to play in and they all overlap each other. You can’t go wrong by just working on stuff and mixing it up as soon as it feels comfortable.
I also highly recommend taking classes outside the discipline. For me Cognitive Science, Philosophy, English, Drama, and History courses were the most critical. I don’t believe art comes from a vacuum and it helps to shape a wider pallet. Sharon Kahanoff taught a course where we worked on one eleven-page text for a whole semester (Notes on Gesture). It was one of the best classes for me because I realized how detailed you NEED to be. That specificity is a requirement – it’s not good enough to read something once. If there’s a book that feels important, there’s no limit to the number of times you can read it, take notes from it, and research it. That’s what studying is. It’s not sitting on the bus skimming something for the gist and hoping the other students answer the TA’s question. I know because I’ve been in both camps.
Not sure how to word this — you were always good at sort of making things happen … thoughts on collaborating?
Film cannot exist without collaboration. There’s a terrific episode of “House” where a massive group of interns are competing to be part of a three-man team who will work exclusively with doctor House. Throughout the episode, a young doctor struggles because everything he says is contrary to House, while this older doctor has all the right answers. When the moment comes for House to let someone go, the young doctor's convinced it’ll be him. House opens his mouth and, to everyone's surprise, fires the older doctor. Shocked, the young doctor asks, “why?” The older gentleman pipes up: “He doesn’t need someone to tell him what he already knows.”
I’ve always felt this way about collaboration. Collaboration is at its best if everyone's doing something the others can’t. The idea of the auteur or the genius artist, and all that stuff, has really messed up a lot of projects. We feel like we need to do everything, have all the answers and be the king of our little film island. Truth is, great things only come from a group of hard working people. A lot of the challenge is finding the right people and learning how to work with them. It's about letting go of your ego, letting go of this facade of perfection, and accepting that you need people who can say things you’ve never thought of.
In the first couple of years at SFU we felt like we needed to see every movie ever made. You'd watch people pretending they'd seen stuff they hadn't just to keep up a facade. Halfway through I realized, "Wait, wouldn't it be wonderful to find someone who'd never seen, read, or experienced the same things as me? We'd have so much to teach each other!" That's why we collaborate.