Atlantic Filmmaker Focus - Jason Buxton

The Atlantic Film Festival is a champion of Atlantic Canadian filmmakers. In keeping with this promise, every month we will be profiling some of the most incredibly talented people in the filmmaking industry, today. This month, we look at writer/director, Jason Buxton.

Jason's latest film, BLACKBIRD, is a film that explores the power and the danger of social media and cyber-bullying while showing that the worst prisons are often the ones we create for ourselves.
BLACKBIRD is the Opening Gala film for the
2013 ViewFinders: Atlantic Film Festival for Youth.
Empire Theatres (Dartmouth Crossing)
7:00PM, April 16th.


Jason Buxton - Writer/Director/Producer

DOB - December 20, 1970

Originally from - Born in England, moved to the South Shore, NS at age 9

Currently resides - Chester, NS

Next project(s) - I have a few concepts for feature films so I am juggling those and talking with screenwriters.  Trying to figure out which ones to pursue first.


AFF: What was the inspiration for Blackbird?

JB: Well I was researching the subject 7 years ago.  I was looking at stories of youth who had implicated themselves as potential violent people or school shooters on the internet.  Sometimes, many times, things can be written as a piece of fiction. But many times, as we often do in our fiction and storytelling, there are real elements from our lives that make it into that story.  I was interested in that dilemma.  How do we/when do we, protect ourselves, families and communities and when do we protect ideas and creativity. I think sometimes the need to judge on a case by case basis, is lost in a culture of fear.

AFF: Where did you film? Were there other considerations?

JB: We filmed in Windsor and Halifax. We were originally going to film in Bridgewater but it was just too far to travel from Halifax and because of our budget, we needed a closer location.  Windsor has that small town feel that we needed and also has those class distinctions, we needed to tell the story.

AFF: How many of the crew were local? How important is that to you?

JB: It's very important to hire local. In terms of cast, I reached out to ACTRA and various theatre communities in Halifax. I auditioned and selected a lot of teens without experience but for the lead roles we extended our search. We bought in some crew but most of the crew is from NS. That’s the way it was intended to be. Also,you get a tax credit for hiring NS crew, so that’s nice.

AFF: What do you look for when casting?

JB: Well, every role is different. When people have little to no experience, I look for someone’s ability to be present, to listen to the person they are acting with and just exist in that scene, in that moment... not self conscious.  Just turn that off and be there.  With professional roles I look for an individual with natural energy. They are familiar with the role and what they bring is unavoidable.

AFF: What are some of the challenges of writing versus directing?

JB: I don’t consider myself a writer. Directing is like second nature, but writing is a very conscious process for me, slow and deliberate. Writing for me is slow and deliberate. I try to break out of that frame of mind but I always seem to fall back into the systematic way of writing. I learned as I was going, with BLACKBIRD. I try to stick to the character dynamic. The writing deals with the psychology of the characters and the dynamic of their relationships. With directing, I can reserve the interpretation, for the set. I like being able to respond to location and everything else surrounding on that day. For example in BLACKBIRD, Sean has a pet iguana. That was unplanned. The iguana belonged to an assistant director and it just became an idea that the production design team had. It just seemed fitting that Sean should have a pet iguana so I incorporated it in a scene by having it sit on his shoulder. I like leaving myself open to the ideas that may come up in your surroundings. I think that’s important.  The main challenge of BLACKBIRD was budget. 100 scenes, 40 speaking parts, a lot of extras and young actors, which meant time restrictions. To be frank, it was terrifying. The strategy is to do as much as possible before production. Time is a commodity on a low budget so you need to prepare as much as possible. Cast the right people and pick the right locations.

AFF: How does your experience as a writer inform your filmmaking experience?

JB: As a writer I deal with psychology and the interpersonal dynamic of characters. From the perspective of directing, you work with the actors to execute the intentions of the scene. Sitting down to develop the craft of writing has changed me. I have always struggled with the writing. With short films I relied a lot on visual and less on deeper character and meaning. The two play off each other. You can be too wordy and theatrical but you can also be too focused on image.

AFF: What were some of the key themes and or messages you wanted to convey with BLACKBIRD?

JB: Individuals can have a strong sense of integrity. That integrity can be compromised by circumstances. Under the right (or wrong) circumstances, people’s integrity has a breaking point. While in some ways, Sean is a victim, because of his circumstances, but he also participates in things that compromise his sense of integrity.

The film explores the human tendency towards the path of least resistance.

AFF: What is your favorite scene?

JB: The climax. The scene between Sean & Trevor. It’s very quiet, just two actors with very little dialogue. Just this emotionally poignant scene. It had been a very long day. This was the last scene to shoot and we were being shut down because the young actors had reached their maximum hours. I had 2 takes to get the scene. I  shot one on each actor and that was it. Each of them nailed it in one try. Then we wrapped the movie. It was a beautiful scene … maybe the most important.

AFF: How do you feel about BLACKBIRD being chosen as the Opening Gala film for the 2013 ViewFinders? Do you think it’s a good fit?

JB: I think it’s great and I am honoured. I think it was a very courageous pick and I think it is a good fit. It’s a heavy film with some real topics. For ViewFinders to put it front row center to youth audiences is great. But it’s a challenging movie, it isn’t the safe choice.

AFF: What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?

JB: Be prepared to struggle financially. Never give up and do not have something to fall back on …or you will.

Thanks Jason! We'll see you at the ViewFinders' Opening Gala!