There are many places other than Toronto and Hollywood for a newly graduated Canadian film student to succeed. Many countries around the world have booming film industries, including China, Egypt and India, which is the world’s largest producer of films. However, making a film in another country can seem like an impossible task for rookie filmmakers, especially if they have had no prior experience filming overseas. Through a collaboration between the University of Calgary, SAIT and Whistling Woods International Institute, five students from Calgary and five students from Mumbai will have a chance to get this experience firsthand.
This year, five students enrolled in the joint U of C and SAIT Bachelor of Film Studies program will work with five students from Whistling Woods, a world-renowned film school located in Mumbai, to produce a collaborative film project. With financial support from Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education, the students will be planning the project over video conferences and filming in both Mumbai and Calgary. The project is projected to be completed by April.
“The idea was to see if the concept of the BFS program could be expanded even further, into an international setting,” says Steve Olson, the academic chair of the BFS program. “The Albertan government had approached both the U of C and SAIT about looking at doing some international collaboration, and they targeted the Whistling Woods school in Mumbai as a school that would be open to this kind of agreement.”
The five BFS students participating in the collaboration were specifically chosen by the U of C for the project to ensure the team would represent the best of Calgary’s young filmmaking community.
“I was super excited when I found out about it,” says Tila Datta, one of the Calgarian students chosen for the project. “It came as a complete shock, but I’m looking forward to the whole thing, even though it will probably be a lot of work.”
However, despite the excitement of the students, there have already been a few preliminary issues with the project — including an initially underwhelming budget. Out of the $77,000 being used for the project, only $10,000 was originally marked to be spent on the actual production of the film, with the rest going to towards travel costs.
“It seems like a lot to say ‘Oh, look we have $10,000!’ ” says Dan Crittenden, another Calgarian student participating in the project. “But when you’re making a movie, $10,000 isn’t really enough to do much.”
Initially the budget saw a large portion of the money going towards maximizing the amount of time the students would be able to spend in Mumbai, in order to give them time to enjoy the city. The students, however, felt that the money would be better spent contributing to the production of the film.
“When they approached me and had a discussion about this, they felt like there should have been more money that was put into the production side of things than what we had allocated,” says Olson. “When we were putting this together, we were guessing in some ways. We have never done something like this before.”
Money was also saved by making it so the editing campaign will take place over video conferencing instead of having it in Mumbai, cutting down on travel costs even further. With these changes, the students will have a much easier time working within the budget, although Crittenden still said it may be difficult to meet the U of C’s expectations.
“I feel a little anxious about this,” explains Crittenden. “I feel the university is trying to put pressure on us to have this be something really worthwhile. But since we have received the original budget, we have reworked it a little and have moved some money around. We think we have something workable now and I think this will be possible.”
While these sort of preliminary issues are to be expected in the first year of such an ambitious undertaking, it has only encouraged Olson, who takes the students’ reworking of the budget as a sign that they are the perfect fit for this project.
“They’re looking at the process they have to go through and saying as filmmakers that this is the best way to do the budget,” says Olson. “I appreciate that because I’m not a filmmaker. I can oversee something like this, but I would have no idea if $1,500 is better spent here or there. We really have the right people. This is definitely the group we want to send over there.”
Another uncertainty that has been troubling Datta and Crittenden has been the lack of communication between them and the students in Mumbai. While the first video conference between the students is scheduled for Oct. 16, it will be difficult for any concrete decisions to be made about the project until that time.
“There are still a lot of questions that have been unanswered and there are still a lot of things we don’t know,” says Datta. “A part of that is because we haven’t met the students from Mumbai yet. So a lot of what we are planning could be thrown out the window if it’s not what the other five students are looking to do.”
Being able to communicate with the students at Whistling Woods may also clear up any remaining concerns with the budget, depending on what equipment will be made available while the students are in Mumbai.
“We don’t know what’s available on the other side of things,” says Crittenden. “Who knows, maybe they have an entire inventory of gear we can have access to when we’re there that could cut our rental budget in half. We’re waiting with baited breath to see what’s going to happen with that.”
Yet, despite any issues the students have had thus far, it is still an amazing opportunity to work on such a unique and ambitious project.
“I’m really happy to be working with a bunch of people who I think are really talented,” says Datta. “Getting this kind of experience is going to be really valuable and hopefully I can take away some things that I can apply later in my career.”
“We’ll pull something together and I think we will be happy with whatever we end up doing,” says Crittenden. “It will be nice to look back in a few years and be like, ‘Man remember that awesome thing we did? That was really cool.’ ”
Olson hopes that this collaboration will result in similar projects in the future, giving more students a chance to experience the international side of filmmaking.
“I think this is a really great opportunity we have presented for these students,” says Olson. “I hope that if we have some real success with this, in either the process or product, that it will open up doors for us to have an annual event like this where we can give students the opportunity to really experience what it’s like working in this industry on an international front.”