Blast from the Past: Cat sat down in 2000 to talk to NB filmmaker Doug Sutherland and it was a fascinating mind tap into his perspective on filmmaking.

Cathie: how did you get sucked into filmmaking? Tell me the  year it all began.

Doug: When did it all go wrong you mean! (laughter)

I often ask myself that. Even way back I was always interested in the whole  art of filmmaking more so than the average kid. There was something that drew me  to it. Watching old movies at night when I was a kid was a typical thing and I  think that’s where the whole problem began (more laughter).

There was a long period of time that I briefly flirted with filmmaking without getting too involved. Then, I was in my mid-twenties and had an  opportunity to go work for the audiovisual branch at the University of New  Brunswick. It was a very low end kind of job in which at certain times I was  able to do slide shows and other things. That’s how long ago this was.

It occurred to me after a while that there was an opportunity for me to write  the scripts for these slide shows and once I started doing that, it wasn t a big  jump to go and actually produce them as well.

Cathie: After this did you think to yourself, "I should leave here and  pursue this on my own?"

Doug: I always took a really conservative approach to it. I didn‘t pack  my bags and go to L.A, although I’ve often thought that’s what I should have  done. The process was always the kind of thing where I‘d do one thing and then  go to step B, then C and D always thinking it would bring me closer and closer to my  goal and to a certain extent it happened.

Cathie: Ok, so you were sucked in at an early age and watched a lot of  films. What was the one thing that kept you on this creative path eventually leading to you producing your own stuff.

Doug: I was a writer or I fancied myself to be a writer and that was  really the core of everything. If I hadn’t been doing that, I wouldn’t have been  continually drawn to continue the whole process.

Cathie: Ok Doug, then if someone asked you to be specific and list the one  creative thing you want to be noted for, producer, director or writer what are  you going to say, writer?

Doug: Director

Cathie: How long did it take you to come to that clarification?

Doug: I don’t know. I think if you’re any good you never come to that clarification in a sense. There are a lot of misperceptions about directing.  Most people have no idea what’s involved in it. It doesn’t stop them from wanting to do it of course. With me it was always writing and producing but if I  wanted something done in a particular way I directed it as well and that was so important.

Cathie: How hard was it trying to do all this a while back when things were just starting up in film and video in the industry in New Brunswick?

Doug: Back then I always felt that I was operating in a vacuum, almost like I was trying to be the best polo player in Labrador. It  wasn’t like I could take a script to a producer and they would package it, nobody knew a thing about that.

Cathie: What were you thinking?!

Doug: As far as I’m concerned anyone who wants to be a director has some serious personality problems anyway (laughter).

Cathie: Oh Doug!

Doug: Well Cath, it’s obvious that there is a craving there when one wants to be a director, to be a bit of a tin pot dictator and that is basically what a  director is and hopefully there’s some genuine creativity there as well.

Cathie: Having that need to drive one’s own projects is unstoppable for some people.

Doug: It’s where I feel happiest and most comfortable. I’ve probably directed 150 different creative projects of one kind or another. I went at it the other way as well as an actor on set which is so different but interesting. I tend to keep my mouth shut and observe the different directors and their styles when I’m acting.

Cathie: Is that hard to do?

Doug: Well, no. I’ve seen other professional directors at work and I  haven’t seen anything that intimidated me at all. Directing on a set is what I  do. There is that mental reward of quote, unquote being in charge, but, if as a  director you’re doing it for that rush’s the wrong reason. People forget that there is an enormous downside to being in the front lines.

Cathie: Tell me where this power and ego aspect and directing became so intertwined in film.

Doug: What lead to all this ego thing with directing is that back in the fifties and sixties the European film critics decided to identify directors as the primary driving force behind a film. An awful lot of people bought into this false perception even though there is no more collaborative medium than film and everybody working in it knows that.

Cathie: Ok, switch hats for me. You’re a writer as well, how does that figure into the whole equation of producing and directing.

Doug: As a writer, and anyone who creates anything out of thin air is a writer, there is a need for a producer who will package everything and the director who is the foreman on the construction site of the film. He makes sure the creative thing gets put together right. All these jobs are important and must collaborate with each other at some point or another.

Cathie: That’s the whole excitement of writing rather then directing for you then, writing something, shaping it all and adding your own vision to it?

Doug: That is enormously valuable. Some directors are always insisting,  "do it my way or it’s the highway for you." They are capable directors, but they are  leaving out the whole team thing so, something gets lost and something is missing from the final creative vision as a result.

Cathie: Every director is different.

Doug: Sure. Some are superb technicians, others are excellent logicians,  James Cameron for example is the latter and I’m certainly not mentioning myself  in the same category as him of course!

Cathie: Self direction is really a must isn’t it, because you will meet  people who don’t share your vision and they will try to change it in a negative way or tear it apart and erode your confidence. I think John Sayles is a great  example of a filmmaker who does it all with very little money. He’s American though and he could never do what he does in Canada as easily on a feature film level.

Doug: No he couldn’t. Canada quite frankly is a terrible environment for somebody who wants to function above the line as a producer/director or writer.  Another good example is to look at well known actors in Canada who would be super stars if they  were in Hollywood, and some have left the country to achieve that status. They  never get that recognition in Canada. It s a joke.

I‘ll give you an example of the absurdity of Canadian cinema. The most successful Canadian film of all time is ‘Ghost Busters’.  This film was driven by  Canadian film people living in Hollywood. They never would have gotten it done if they had to depend on Canadian financing. It‘s very difficult for someone to be taken seriously in their own neck of the woods, Canada.

Cathie: So playing the game your own way doesn’t usually work.

Doug: No it doesn’t. My way really hasn’t been that successful. I’ve been doing this rugged individualist thing for a long time and after a while it’s damn tiresome. I remember a group of us would have conversations in the eighties saying how we had to educate the market and educate the public, whatever, to get the film thing rolling more so. I  really don’t know if we’ve made any headway in that. I think it’s in the  Canadian psyche that this creative stuff shouldn’t happen, it’s too chancy. Sure the American  industry is much more brutal but it’s much more open to taking a chance on speculative things like filmmaking. Private investment is just a given in the States and elsewhere. In Canada it’s nonexistent.

I used to feel that Canadian banks were the root of it but I’ve changed my opinion on that over time. Now I believe the problem is ‘venture capital’ . There is no such thing as this in Canada. Canada is very much resource based and very  conservative, we stack a dime on top of another and then we turn around and  wonder why nothing of creative orgin ever happens here. There is such a small  pot of money even with government tax credits and other incentives for film  productions. Things always seem to fall through the cracks.

Cathie: Well, when someone is trying to get money for their own  independent project out of the same pot as shows like “This Hour Has 22 Minutes," and “Traders,” it does seem like a losing game.

Doug: It’s very difficult because it’s a very exclusionary tight circle. 

Cathie: Taking all that you’ve said up to now, what advice would you give to someone just jumping into the industry with little or no experience?

Doug: Well, the wrong reason to jump into filmmaking would be to make tons of money, it‘s a very volatile business and one has to just keep on their toes.

Cathie: Thanks Doug, we’ll meet again to chat some more, we’re a long way from being finished I think.

Doug: I think you’re right on that one Cath, until next time.

Doug on set on of the feature film, Letha Acidents.

Doug doing what he seldom does, relaxing!