Fandom to Filmmaking: SAW Video Spotlight Award Winners Grant Jeffery and Magill Foote
By Ben Macdonald-Dale
Magill Foote remembers seeing the original Jurassic Park when it first came out in theatres. “I would have been right around ten or eleven years old, big into dinosaurs,” he recalls. “It was the perfect time for me to see it and for years after it was my favourite movie.”
This childlike enthusiasm is at the center of Jurassic Park IV (according to an 8-year-old) (2014), an inventive short film created by Foote and his creative partner Grant Jeffery. The animated short is a visualization of a young boy’s pitch for a new film in the Jurassic Park franchise. The film operates on what Grant calls “kid logic,” and contains many references to the original Jurassic Park for fans to uncover. The short garnered the SAW Video award for Most Promising Filmmaker as well as the Parktown award for Best Story at the Fall 2014 Digi60, the Ottawa Digital Filmmakers’ Festival.
While Jurassic Park IV won awards at the Fall Digi60 festival, it has its origins in the Spring Digi60 that preceded it. At that earlier festival, their pinball film Full Tilt, set in Ottawa’s House of Targ, won the Fantasia Festival Fantasy award, which came with the prize of a trip to the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. It was in Montreal that they met Matthew Jancovic, “a big film nerd like us,” Magill recalls, “so right away we all hit it off.” As the group played a board game, “he started talking about his idea for Jurassic Park IV. There is a Jurassic Park IV coming out this summer and he was really annoyed by it and he pitched us, basically, that whole short right there. Then sure enough the fall Digi60 festival came around and they announced that the catch was fan films and we went ‘well, perfect.’ So one Digi60 just fed into the next one.”
Grant, the team’s lead animator, describes the intentionally rough-looking, cut-out style animation of their Jurassic Park IV as being inspired by the kind of animation Terry Gilliam created for Monty Python. The animation was achieved through Photoshop and After Effects and efforts were taken to prevent it from looking too polished.
Grant and Magill share a passion for film. “I’ve just been a lifelong fan of the movies,” recalls Magill. “My dad loved the movies, so growing up we’d go to the movies almost every weekend. I always knew I wanted to do something in the film industry. For a while I thought it was directing, for a while I thought it might be acting but ultimately, by the time I reached Carleton University I knew I wanted to be an editor. For my eighteenth birthday my dad had gotten me a camcorder and the equipment so I could hook it up to my computer and edit.”
His collaborator Grant started making short films for amateur filmmaking competitions while still in high school in Walden, Ontario. “Then I moved down here to study at Carleton University and that’s when I met Magill and I guess we’ve been making films ever since,” he says. They met in second year film studies and collaborated on a short film the Carleton Film Society was putting together.
“Working on that film,” Magill adds,” we realized we really enjoyed collaborating, and had neat ideas for unique types of short film we could make. Grant and I continue to collaborate on creative projects and take turns in the various roles. We co-direct all of our projects and trade duties back and forth and occasionally I direct and I act so in a way I’m doing all the things that I thought I might do.”
The two partnered to create Rule2 Productions which makes videos for various groups, ranging from local bands to NGOs, as well as their own creative pet projects. Magill describes their brainstorming sessions as mostly involving “Grant and I sitting in his kitchen drinking so much coffee and just batting ideas back and forth.” But when devising a film for a competition, “usually our creative process is to just get really angry at each other and fight over our ideas and argue and argue. Once we both become exhausted we scrap both of our ideas and pick some third idea neither of us had thought of before but which contains little bits and pieces of all the other ideas we’ve been batting around.”
Once they have the concept they find creative ways to realize their vision despite limited resources. As Grant puts it, “at the same that we’re working with limitations I don’t think that that curbs our thinking at all. It’s more like a challenge to figure out ‘OK, how are we going to do this.’” Adds Magill, “we’re very inspired by filmmakers who do a lot with very little. We call ourselves Rule2 Productions. Rule two in our mandate is that restriction breeds ingenuity. And so we draw inspiration from people like [Canadian filmmaker] Guy Maddin.”
“I always find that looking at old silent films by Fritz Lang, as well as Murnau, to be very impressive, because the technical limitations that they were working with were so daunting,” says Grant. He compares the situation silent filmmakers were in with the conditions independent filmmakers face today. “I’ve made films with a laptop tethered to an electrical cord and a single light bulb and plastering a bunch of old newspapers on the wall - and that’s effective.”
Magill also reflected on what it’s like to be a filmmaker in Ottawa: “it seems that everybody in Ottawa knows everybody else to some degree, and the result is that it feels like a really tightly knit filmmaking community. So much of that is people offering help: ‘I know a guy who can do scores,’ or ‘I’m looking for actors who fit this description.’ Once you are part of it you get connected to everybody and places like SAW Video and IFCO [The Independent Filmmakers Cooperative of Ottawa] really facilitate that.”
As for upcoming projects, the duo plan on making a film this spring for Ottawa’s Cellar Door Festival, which showcases “strange and unusual” films, as well as a contribution over the summer to a horror anthology which is drawing on the talents of twenty filmmaking teams around Ottawa. They’re also working on a short documentary video about a Russian-Ukrainian film that’s been a decade in the making.
Grant and Magill’s work can be found at rule2productions.com
Ben Macdonald-Dale is a film studies student at Carleton University and has been working at SAW Video as part of a practicum course.
Published on April 20, 2015.
Photo credits: In order of appearance, Elise Tarrant, Still from Jurrasic Park, Elise Tarrant, and Digi60.