Hollywood’s brightest stars will walk the red carpet at the 2019 Toronto film festival this September, but the stars behind the camera are often just as important to the movie magic, even if they don’t receive the same glory. This year, we are shining a spotlight on a different kind of movie star: film production professionals. They’re the pros who skillfully mix sound, cut clips, and direct art to make this magic. Read on to hear their stories.
Hamilton-based composer Mike Monson was gifted his first drum kit on his 11th birthday. That drum kit ultimately jump-started Monson’s love for music.
“From then on, I was always in my bedroom learning new instruments,” says Monson.
He would spend hours strumming his guitar or composing new melodies on the piano after school. Soon people were asking Monson to make music for them. He played in bands, wrote music for friends’ short films, and recorded music at home. When he graduated from high school, he decided to take his craft to another level at Fanshawe College’s Music Industry Arts program where he studied the art of sound engineering.
Shortly after Monson graduated, he had an opportunity to assist on a remix of an album for an iconic band: Rush.
“I was an assistant engineer on the remix,” says Monson. “I ordered the vinyl, and I wasn’t sure if I would see my name on it, but it was there! That was huge for me, especially because I was fresh out of school.”
Monson has had many career highlights since that moment he received the Rush album — he now has mix engineering credits on tracks by some of the biggest Canadian rock bands like Metric and Our Lady Peace. He also spends time scoring films and mixing sound for commercials and movies.
“It is riveting to see the film before there is any music or sound. Sound helps magnify the message of films,” says Monson.
In the past, Monson has worked with film directors such as Chris Cottam (Disney’s Evermoor, BBC) and Deepa Mehta (Elements Trilogy, Midnight’s Children).
From recording rock records in hotel rooms to mixing sound for films — every day is different for Monson. When he isn’t on the road, his home base is Catherine North Studios — a historic recording studio in a century-old converted church. The unique open concept studio has birthed albums for many present-day Canadian acts, like City and Colour, Walk Off the Earth, and Feist.
Monson loves having an opportunity to collaborate with local artists to create uniquely Canadian music.
“I am a proud Canadian. We’re a different breed, and our work shouldn’t be overlooked,” he says.
Watch Mike Monson make music, here.
Business: Mission Productions and Media Inc.
Michelle Carter was creating commercials for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) when she fell in love with filmmaking. Her eyes light up when she shares stories about trips to shoot footage of endangered animals. “I love being in the field,” says Carter.
Carter eventually left the WWF to work for the agency producing its commercials. While working agency-side she learned the ropes of editing, shooting, and producing. Then she had an idea: What if other charities leveraged filmmaking techniques to create empowering stories? Carter saw an opportunity to help charities through filmmaking, so 3 years ago, she started her own production house called Mission Productions and Media, Inc.
“We go to a lot of places other people maybe wouldn’t want to go to tell the stories of places, people, and animals in need,”says Carter.
Sometimes Mission’s projects are quite straight forward, like shooting footage at a hospital in Ontario. Other projects may take her team across the world.
A few years ago, the team traveled to Tanzania for a project with Hope and Healing International to raise funds for a new hospital. The East African country is home to stunning wildlife-rich national parks like Serengeti National Park, where you’ll see lions, elephants, and giraffes. Though beautiful, Tanzania’s vast wilderness can make access to healthcare challenging for some people living there.
Carter’s team was tasked with spotlighting the need for a new hospital in Tanzania. A young boy named Shadili — who was visually impaired and undergoing cataract surgery — was profiled for their film. Shadhili was a bright four-year-old who had spent his life living with blindness. To get to the hospital, he and his mother traveled for 4 days. It was a tough physical and emotional journey, but if the surgery went well, it would be life-changing for him and his family.
“The next day after the surgery, they took off his eye patch, and he could see for the first time,” says Carter. “It took my breath away to see Shadili see his mother’s face for the first time. Their smiles could light up a city.”
Stories like Shadili’s show the life-changing work that charities can do. To date, Mission Productions has worked with a variety of organizations, including Operation Smile, St. Michael’s Hospital, World Wildlife Fund, and Plan International. Watch Michelle Carter’s story, here.
Business: True Play Productions
“Filmmaking has been in my blood ever since I can remember,” says Alex Coleman, the creative force behind Toronto-based production house, True Play Productions.
“I was an introvert growing up, but I came alive when I spoke about films, or watched one,” says Coleman. “My best friend and I would always talk about films at recess.”
While many teens spend summers scooping ice cream for extra cash or attending camps, Coleman spent his trying to break into the film business. He would commute from Newmarket to Toronto to check out the studio scene and learn more about the industry.
At 18 he did get a foot in the door in a Toronto-based production house.
“I did a cold walk into the Buck Productions offices, and met the exec Sean Buckley who gave me the opportunity,” says Coleman. He started there as an intern and eventually turned that stint into a gig as a production assistant.
“Being in that environment was jaw-dropping,” says Coleman.
Eventually, his love of movies propelled him to pursue a degree in film at York University. After graduating, he launched his career in film production, juggling multiple hats while working as a director, editor, and producer. To date, he has worked on documentaries, short films, and feature films (Change for Chimps, Recon, Softcore), but his true passion point is creating original stories, particularly horror films.
“The project I’m most proud of is my short film To Catch a Mouse (2018),” says Coleman.
To Catch a Mouse is a 15-minute thriller about a suburban couple with a secret appetite for catching all sorts of creatures. The film debuted at the 2018 Scream Fest and earned a nomination for the Best Horror Short at the Director’s Circle Festival of Shorts. It was Coleman’s first major short film as an executive producer and it received critical acclaim.
After about 10 years in the film industry, Coleman does have advice to those breaking into the industry.
“The most important piece of advice I could give is to know your worth,” says Coleman.
It can sometimes be hard to know what’s a fair wage in creative fields. Filmmaking generally isn’t a nine-to-five gig with a regular pay schedule, so it’s essential to negotiate a rate that is fair and reflects the cost of your equipment and time.
“If people are asking you for a set rate, and you don’t know (what you should charge) then find out online what the standard rate would be for your level of experience,” says Coleman. “Then you can increase that wage as you build your portfolio, and people will respect that.” Watch Alex Coleman’s story, here.
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From sound engineers to producers to editors, many entertainment professionals work for themselves. We work for them. Test drive how QuickBooks can help you run your film business, here.