Atlantic Filmmaker Focus - Jordan Canning

The Atlantic Film Festival is a champion of Atlantic Canadian filmmakers. In keeping with this promise, every month we profile some of the most incredibly talented people in the filmmaking industry today. This month, we look at St. John's, NL native Jordan Canning. 

Jordan has several projects in various stages of development, and took some time out of her busy schedule to talk with us.

Jordan Canning

D.O.B: August 3rd, 1982.
Where are you from? St. John's
Where do you currently reside? Toronto, ON - but still spending a lot of time in St. John's!
What are you currently working on? I have three projects in the works. I've recently finished the web series SPACE RIDERS: DIVISION EARTH which will be out very soon. My first feature film WE WERE WOLVES is currently in post-production, nearing the final-cut stage. ODDLY FLOWERS, my screenplay adaption of Jessica Grant's novel Come, Thou Tortoise, is also in development, yet to go into production.

ABOUT FILMMAKING

What got you first interested in film?
I was around film sets a lot as a kid because my mom worked as a production designer in St. John's. I also dabbled in acting, which gave me a rounder view of the filmmaking process. I studied creative writing in university, and when I returned to Newfoundland I took part in a First-Time Filmmakers program through the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Co-operative (NIFCO). I was mentored by Justin Simms, and we shot PILLOW TALK, an adaptation of a short story I wrote, on Super 16.

When did you first decide filmmaking would be a career path for you?
Since my NIFCO experience, I began to work in different industry roles - with various crew jobs, as a script supervisor on the REPUBLIC OF DOYLE set, for the St. John's International Women's Film Festival, in publicity, and editing - so I was on set in many ways, learning in a real-life version of film school. I began to seriously consider directing and applied to the Canadian Film Centre's Director's Lab, and when I got in I made the move to Toronto. I've since remained, making connections and building a team of people I can work with - some of whom are Newfoundland transplants as well.

What, in your opinion, makes a good film?
It all comes down to the script, to a degree. You don't necessarily have to take a long time to write it, but the way a story is told will be re-invented many times in the filmmaking process, so it's very important that the script has been fully thought through. Additionally, you can't be a slave to it, once shooting starts. You have to believe in the world you've made, and then be flexible with it. Letting it evolve is the best part.

What advice would you give an aspiring filmmaker?
Make a lot of films. Even if they're $5-budget ones you create with your friends - especially if they are. Don't wait for funding or approval or any kind of recognition. Quite often you'll produce some of your best work without the pressure.

ABOUT JORDAN

You've directed over a dozen short films that have been shown at festivals all over the world, and now you have moved into feature film direction. How does the way you attempt to tell a story change when you move from directing short films to features?
Before I did a feature film, I would have thought of approaching it like many short films fused together - which is not the case at all! Feature films are so thrilling and interesting to direct because there's more time to develop and play with the characters. Short films have less room for big surprises because there's really only enough time to focus on one big idea. 

What did you learn from the experience of directing your first feature film, WE WERE WOLVES?
Just how much the scope of the story can change. We shot the feature out of order, and one particular scene turned out very different from what I expected. We then went back and traced the build-up to this change with other scenes. It can happen many times, and then you can go back with the actors having this foreshadowed knowledge and play with other parts of the story.  

Your short films have won countless awards, including the RBC Emerging Filmmaker's Competition and a CBC Short Film Finalist nod. What has been your favourite short film to direct, and why?
Directing the music video for "Best Served" by St. John's band The Pathological Lovers was so much fun to execute. Because it was a music video we didn't have to worry about capturing sound, and it was such a hoot just laughing and having fun on set. My short film SECONDS was also really great because it was a more personal experience with a small crew.

Hints of Newfoundland, such as the character's accents and dialogue in BATHROOM and some of the scenery in COUNTDOWN, in addition to music videos for St. John's bands, can be detected in your work. How important is it for you to showcase your home province in your filmmaking?
Such hints are more of a by-product of the films I've made in Newfoundland rather than an intentional attempt to showcase the province. I like the places in town that aren't necessarily recognizable, and try to find locations that haven't been shown before. The unseen is what interests me, and I like to trick people about where the actual location of the scene might be.

What other filmmakers, local or international, have influenced your style the most? Do you have any mentors that guided you to becoming the filmmaker you are today?
I love the work of Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Wes Anderson, and Paul Thomas Anderson - especially his film MagnoliaI am striving to achieve my own clear voice to bring to different genres, which is something these filmmakers all do very well. It's all about having confidence in your own technique as you express your world view through film.

You were directing the web series SPACE RIDERS: DIVISION EARTH, which will be released online soon. Did you find that there is a difference between directing a web series versus directing films?
We did three-act episodes for the series, and it was a lot like shooting for a TV sitcom, with less time time for exploration. In those situations you move quickly and develop the ability to make decisions in a tight time frame, always keeping the big picture of the series in mind, day by day.

Where and when can we expect to catch your productions?
SPACE RIDERS: DIVISION EARTH has been completed and will soon go live online. More news about my other projects will be out later this year. I keep my website regularly updated: www.getsetfilms.com.

Thanks for catching up with us, Jordan! We look forward to watching your upcoming works!