Published on October 2nd, 2014 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Paul Armstrong of Celluloid Social Club
Paul Armstrong is the founder of long-running The Celluloid Social Club in Vancouver, the producer of this year’s Canadian comedy favourite, Lawrence & Holloman, an executive producer of Bedbugs: A Musical Love Story (currently playing at the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival), and the executive director/producer of the Crazy 8s Film Society.
On the heels of the Crazy 8s kick-off, we spoke to Paul about his various community endeavours and the state of the film industry in Canada.
How did you become interested in the entertainment industry and what steps did you take to get involved?
I have always been interested in the entertainment industry since I was a kid as I was always interested in using artifice to get to the truth. That said I consider myself working more in the arts than the ‘entertainment’ industry as my prime goal is to make people think and not just be entertained, although that can be done in entertaining ways. For me the arts is the self-consciousness of our culture as its reflexive back on itself and makes us think about things other than just basic survival. Pure entertainment is just escapist.
It wasn’t until I was in University in York, UK that I started to take the steps to get involved in the industry by getting involved in the University theatre society. When I was back in Vancouver in the mid ‘90s the film industry was booming so I started to look for work in film, first by tapping into any film contacts I had. I continued to work in theatre as well producing both plays and film.
The Celluloid Social Club is one of your well-known community accomplishments. What was your inspiration for starting it and why do you think it has had such a successful run?
My inspiration for starting the Celluloid Social Club was that before I was involved in the arts I didn’t feel at home in the non-arts world and always dreamed of a club for artists to showcase and discuss their work. I felt that Vancouver at the time was lacking such a venue and rather than complain about it or move away somewhere else again as I had for University I would start it in Vancouver. Working at the Vancouver Film School gave me the opportunity to start such a project when Brett Isfeld invited me to screen VFS films at a bar in Kits. Eventually Jeanne Harco and Cathi Black approached me to add a networking social component to it and that became the Celluloid Social Club starting in November, 1997. I now have the invaluable assistance of Co-Producer Alexandra Staseson.
It has had a successful run because fills a need for filmmakers to screen their work and get feedback from the Q&As we do. It has also had a successful run as we have persevered in trying to do a show every month despite whatever else we’re working on at the time so persistence from the Celluloid Social Club team is a big factor.
You’ve produced a feature films like Moving Malcolm and Lawrence & Holloman, as well as a number of shorts. What do you enjoy about producing and what have you learned from each filmmaking experience?
Producing isn’t easy and not enjoyable most of the time but what I enjoy about producing is eventually sharing the films with an audience and getting their reaction and perhaps changing them in some way, through for insistence changing their perspective. I also enjoy the collaborative nature of filmmaking and working with a team.
What I learn from each project is that despite saying I won’t do another one again (especially the features as they are so time consuming), I seem to up end up saying yes!
What is the current state of the Canadian film industry from your perspective and how can it be improved?
The Canadian film industry for me is maybe as fine as it can be given how small the Canadian market is for non-studio films but I think greater effort needs to be made to get audiences to the theatres to see them. Canadian films find audiences at film festivals, get broadcast licenses, play online but its difficult to get them to come to the movie theatre, except for opening night, thanks to organizations such as First Weekend Club, with whom I occasionally event produce. Not sure what the answer is outside a quota system but then I also believe in the people being able to choose what they want to see. So I think the answer is to educate people early to have the sensibility to want to watch a thoughtful Canadian indie rather than a Hollywood action film (although there is a place for those too).
What is one of the most memorable moments of your career so far?
One of the most memorable moments was when Robin Williams showed up at the Celluloid Social Club at the ANZA Club in April 2006 with a video for us to screen. He arrived a bit late so we screened it at the bar downstairs. He seemed like an ordinary person with no pretense and I kept having to convince myself it was actually Robin Williams. I was sad to hear about his death.
The other memorable moments, besides all the great cast and crew I’ve worked with, such as Elizabeth Berkley, John Neville, Laura Linney, Sir Derek Jacobi, William Gibson, Douglas Coupland, Rob Morrow, is attending film festivals to share the films with audiences around the world and having the audience connect with the film despite language and cultural differences. Most recently at the Shanghai International Film Festival I was surprised to see how well the comedy Lawrence & Holloman translated into laughter.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a film producer in today’s market?
My advice is to diversify, have multiple irons in the fire and try to be involved in the industry in other ways than just producing for the lean times. That said when a project does heat up it will take 90% of your time so be prepared for that. Other advice includes to network as much as possible as you always need the help of a community to make a film.
What books have been influential to you in your career?
The most influential books for me were ones not related to film.
In general I don’t read ‘how to make a film’ books but I only read books about story or stories as for me that is more important than the nuts and bolts of making a film which you can learn ‘on the job’ whether making films in film school or on your own. I also watched almost every classic film as a way of learning filmmaking.
What projects are involved with at the moment that you would like to share with us?
I am starting up the 8 day short film making event Crazy8s 2015, with the Information & Registration Session October 18th. Filming will be in February and the Gala February 28th. More info at Crazy8s.cc and Facebook.com/Crazy8sFilm.
I also have another Celluloid Social Clubs before I get too busy with Crazy8s for the season with one October 15th. We will screen the Crazy8s film Stewing as well as a selection of web series.
Lawrence & Holloman is currently screening on Super Channel until October 27 and continues to play at film festivals around the world including in Russia in mid-October.