B.C. Scene: Western hitmaker Ransen irked he must look to the east for funds

Vancouver: Producer/director/writer Mort Ransen is busy trying to get his next project, Shegalla Summer, off the ground in time to shoot this summer. The dramatic film, written by first-time Vancouver screenwriter Joan Hopper, is about a man who escapes from a...

Vancouver: Producer/director/writer Mort Ransen is busy trying to get his next project, Shegalla Summer, off the ground in time to shoot this summer. The dramatic film, written by first-time Vancouver screenwriter Joan Hopper, is about a man who escapes from a mental institution, quits taking his medication, and gets himself involved in two very unlikely affairs.

Sadly, in spite of the phenomenal critical and box office success (by Canadian standards) of his last film, Margaret’s Museum, and despite the fact the entire film is being produced and shot in b.c., the Saltspring Island resident still has to get his financing from eastern sources.

‘It was disheartening for me to discover that there just isn’t as much of an indigenous industry here,’ says Ransen, who has been living in b.c. for five years. ‘All the support mechanisms for doing indigenous filmmaking in b.c. are not as strong as they are back east.’ No surprise to most producers here.

Once again, while the b.c. production industry appears to be buoyant – last year bringing more than $430 million into the province – it’s still a product of the service sector.

So the questions remain: Where is the support for b.c. indigenous production? What are our Western-based broadcasters, WIC Western International Communications and CanWest Global, investing in? If not the Cable Production Fund or Telefilm Canada, then who? And if the cftpa’s b.c. branch in fact has a voice, how come it’s not being heard?

Crime does pay

First it was an international critics award from Monte Carlo, then a Canadian senator stands up in the Senate and praises Little Criminals as the type of production the cbc should be doing more of.

‘That’s the kind of publicity you just can’t buy,’ says Phil Savath, who produced the tv movie penned by playwright/screenwriter Dennis Foon.

Then late last month, Savath received news that Little Criminals has also been invited to the prestigious input world festival of films produced for public television, being held next month in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Now Savath and Foon are collaborating once again on another tv movie for cbc that Savath says will be equally ‘controversial and powerful.’ But that’s all he’s divulging about the content until the deal’s done.

In the meantime, Savath takes a break from the stresses of reality by practising his valleyspeak and knocking off a few teleplays for Aaron Spelling’s Beverly Hills 90210. It ain’t art, but it sure pays the bills.

No parking

Now that the labor situation is starting to look more settled, the topic of studio space is on everyone’s mind once again. Even though there are more than 25 stages in town, not including the makeshift warehouse spaces, the B.C. Film Commission says there still isn’t enough space to accommodate all the productions that are currently booking to shoot in Vancouver this summer.

To help rectify the problem, Susan Croome, gm of The Bridge Studios, is ‘in discussions’ about building another 20,000-square-foot stage in place of The Bridge’s front parking lot to augment its four other stages and North America’s largest – 40,000-square-foot – special effects studio.

Over at North Shore Studios, fellow gm Peter Leitch says he’d also like to expand but doesn’t have a parking lot to convert, given the cost of building an underground garage, which tallies up at an astronomical $10,000 per parking space. Hmmmgive that idea a miss.

Tooning in

Disney’s certainly not the only animation studio gearing up for more work in Vancouver. Chris Bartleman’s Studio B has upped its staff to 45 to handle the current production roster.

First on the list is Savage Dragon, 13 half-hours of an action/ adventure series coproduced by Universal and based on a set of comics written by San Francisco-based cartoonist Eric Larson (no relation to Gary) about a Chicago cop with a dragon fin on top of his head. Yes, you read it right.

In preproduction are three half-hour episodes of Road Warriors for Warner Bros. about a couple of dogs who head out on the road – searching for the ultimate fire hydrant no doubt.

And a promo piece for Link and Louie, a new cartoon series about a couple of guys who get into hilarious hijinks – no v-chips required here – is finishing up in post.

Galas and gizmos

The British Columbia Motion Picture Association is now fully underway on the industry’s long-awaited, first B.C. Motion Picture Awards show, to be held May 5 at the Hotel Vancouver. The awards, which will honor producers, directors, writers, composers, cinematographers, actors and actresses and animators, is open to all b.c. residents who have worked on indigenous and u.s. productions.

Also in the works is cinexpo, a technical trade show featuring the latest developments in camera equipment, electronic arts, computer effects, cd-rom/multimedia hardware and converging technologies.

And for all you gaffers, grips and greens keepers with a screenplay tucked away inside you, as part of the event there will be an interactive screenwriting workshop with Hollywood screenplay guru John Truby, who has pioneered the design and release of story-creation computer software programming.

The gala event and cinexpo are being held in conjunction with the city’s Motion Picture Industry Appreciation Week running from May 1-7.