Alumni filmmakers Jeremy Lutter & Ben Rollo embrace the dark

UVic’s Writing department does a brisk trade in filmmakers, thanks to an award-winning range of alumni directors, producers and screenwriters. But while most focus on creating dramas, thrillers and rom-coms, long-time collaborators Jeremy Lutter (BA ’05) and Ben Rollo (BA ‘10) are drawn to the darker side of life.

Broken Mirror Films duo Jeremy Lutter (left) and Ben Rollo

Consider The Hollow Child, a 90-minute horror movie directed by Lutter and written by Rollo about children who go missing and then come back . . . changed. It’s captivating, it looks great and, most importantly, it’s downright creepy.

“Genre filmmaking is kind of a dirty word in Canada but The Hollow Child was easy to pitch because people understood it,” says Lutter (which rhymes with “butter”). “Horror has a certain kind of language that’s easier to explain.”

Rollo suggests their film appeals on the same level as a dark fairy or folk tale. “Jeremy and I have always been attracted to the fantastic, and we liked the idea of marrying that to horror,” says Rollo. “The story had its genesis in a conversation about how spooky it would be if someone you knew well disappeared and then returned different.”

Citing early influences like The X-Files, Edward Scissorhands and filmmakers David Lynch and David Fincher, Lutter says it was a short hop from “the idea of imposters and foster kids and people who were self-destructive” to an “under- utilized monster” like a changeling. “You need to know enough about the genre to know what people are expecting and then not deliver that,” explains Lutter.

Conceived over the course of three years and shot on the Lower Mainland in four weeks back in 2015, The Hollow Child was funded through Telefilm Canada’s competitive “Talent to Watch” program for first-time feature directors and made for “somewhere south of a quarter-million,” says Lutter.

Hannah Cheramy as the girl who disappears in the woods and returns changed in “The Hollow Child”

The film was produced by UVic Gustavson School of Business alumna Jocelyn Russell (BC0m ’12), a friend of the director and writer since they all attended Cedar Hill Middle School, then Mount Douglas Secondary together. Lutter says while there’s camaraderie, there’s little glamour in the life of an indie filmmaker. “It means being a constant entrepreneur; I thought at some point it would get easier, but it always stays exactly the same level of hardness.”

After having its world premiere at the 2017 Victoria Film Festival, The Hollow Child went on to earn five nominations and one win in BC’s annual Leo Awards, as well as picking up an award at its European premiere in Portugal, before earning the grand prize at Mexico’s Feratum Film Festival, both in 2018. And it’s still on the festival circuit, playing across the US and (aptly) appeared at the Vancouver Badass Film Festival in March 2019. “It amazes me that it’s still screening two years later,” laughs Lutter.

Tellingly, Lutter’s production company is called Broken Mirror Films. “Art is never a perfect reflection of life, it’s always a distortion,” he says. “There’s something about broken characters that interest me. I don’t think I’ve ever told a story that wasn’t about someone who is broken; we’re all broken in some ways—that’s what makes us interesting.”

Lutter’s own near-death experience in a horrific 2008 car accident skewed his perspective toward the unseen world. “It was a completely transforming experience,” he says. “Once you go through something like that, it’s hard to forget that some random happenstance can end your life at any moment. I was making films before, but I got way more serious about it afterwards.”

As for why UVic’s Writing program keeps turning out successful filmmakers, he says it comes down to the script. “Story structure and storytelling are universal skills that last longer than current technology,” says Lutter.

For Rollo, filmmaking adds an essential collaborative element that’s missing from traditional prose writing: “You start with a germ of an idea, but then everyone else on the project brings their own vision to it, which adds to it in unexpected and wonderful ways,” he says. “I love being on set; it’s a frustrating, exciting, tumultuous experience that’s really like nothing else.”

Three Fine Arts alumni receive Pro Art awards

Anyone looking for the continued impact of Fine Arts alumni on Victoria’s vibrant arts scene needs look no further than the winners of the 2019 ProArt Regional Arts Awards—all three of whom are Fine Arts alumni.

Matthew Payne (left) with Colton Hash

On May 9, members of the Greater Victoria arts community and the Professional Arts Alliance of Greater Victoria (ProArt) gathered at Pacific Opera Victoria’s Baumann Centre to acknowledge and honour three artists working in the region.

Department of Theatre alum Matthew Payne recieved the PARC Retirement Living Mid-Career Artist Award, while Visual Arts MFA alum Lindsay Delaronde received the inaugural ProArt Early-Career Artist Award, and recent Visual Arts alum Colton Hash was honoured with the new Witness Legacy Award for Social Purpose and Responsibility Through Art, presented by Audain Professor Carey Newman.

Matthew Payne is the Artistic and Managing Producer at Theatre SKAM, possibly the most successful alumni company to ever emerge from the Theatre department. Since graduating in 1993, Payne has regularly worked professionally in Canadian theatre, taking on a variety of roles and spending time in Victoria, Vancouver and Toronto as a writer, performer, carpenter, director, production manager, stage manager and administrator. Locally he has worked with a myriad of companies, including the Belfry Theatre, Pacific Opera Victoria, The Other Guys, Theatre Inconnu, Story Theatre, Kaleidoscope Theatre, Giggling Iguana Productions and, of course,  Theatre SKAM (for whom he is the “M”); nationally, he has worked with Nightswimming, Crow’s Theatre, and Production Canada in Toronto, and a dozen peer companies based in Vancouver. He has also served on the executive of IATSE Local 168.

Carey Newman (left) with Colton Hash

Nominated by the Theatre SKAM Board of Directors for the ProArt Award, Payne was the jury’s strong choice demonstrating a comprehensive practice that represents excellence in the Mid-Career category. The jury was unanimous in its support of Payne’s commitment to his performing arts practice and the significant contribution that he makes to local theatre and the regional arts community.

“Matthew dedicates his professional career to dreaming up inspirational and innovative projects that tour the world, to the development of new work—primarily by Victoria writers—and to building community,” noted his nomination letter.

Audain Professor in the Visual Arts department Carey Newman initiated a new award this year: the Witness Legacy Award for Social Purpose and Responsibility, which he presented to artist Colton Hash. Hash, the inaugural artist-in-residence with Ocean Networks Canada for 2018/19, was presented with this award to recognize the significant impact that artists can have on issues relevant to the Capital Region.

“Colton Hash is doing ground-breaking work combining digital and physical artforms to create installations that bring the forward the reality of data in a visceral manner,” said Newman. “His efforts to draw focus to environmental and climate issues through his practice are not only worthy of recognition, they are an excellent example of what it means to use art for social purpose and responsibility.”

And while she was unavailable to attend the awards ceremony, Lindsay Delaronde was announced as the winner of the ProArt Early-Career Artist Award. Created to recognize an artist who is showing dedication and promise in the early stages of their career, Delaronde’s recent role as the City of Victoria’s inaugural Indigenous Artist-in-Residence was highlighted by Newman in his remarks.

Lindsay Delaronde supported by dancers during the ACHoRd performance during her time as Indigenous Artist in Residence (Photo: Peruzzo)

“I selected Lindsay for this award to recognise the incredible work she has done as Victoria’s Indigenous Artist in Residence,” he said. “Her way of raising awareness around critical social issues and engaging community through her art and curation is something to celebrate. The power of her performances and work are a reflection of her strength and resilience and a testament to her potential.”

Each of these recipients does contributes excellent creative work to the regional arts community, and all are representative of the dynamic arts and cultural community Fine Arts has long supported and encouraged in Victoria.

The Professional Arts Alliance of Greater Victoria was formed to advance the important role the arts play in the life of our community, and to advocate for public sector support. ProArt believes that, by working in partnership with our legislators and government agencies, we can sustain and build our region’s vibrant cultural sector for the benefit of all of our residents and visitors.

The Art & Science of Listening

Whether it’s Queen recording their iconic title track in Bohemian Rhapsody or Will Ferrell’s hilarious “More Cowbell” sketch on Saturday Night Live, what happens in the recording studio has long been mythologized in popular culture. It’s also at the core of Kirk McNally’s research.

The School of Music music technology professor is fusing his professional background as a recording engineer with a new archive of unexplored recordings to build a better understanding of the relationship between musicians, engineers and music producers.

A set of multi-track audio recordings donated to UVic in 2014 formed the basis for McNally’s initial research into the intricate relationship between technical skills and musical output in the studio. By analyzing these recordings, McNally identified exactly what decisions were made in the studio, and how they affected the creative process of producing the final album—findings he now shares with students.

Kirk McNally in the School of Music’s Create Lab, with music student Ayari Kasukawa (UVIC Photo Services)

A temple and a laboratory

“More cowbell!”

Revered as both a temple and laboratory by scholars, the recording studio is historically the place where the best musicians, producers and engineers create the soundtrack to our lives. But this activity has seen little critical evaluation.

“What I’m looking to better understand is the way those relationships—verbal, musical or technological—are communicated, and how the decisions made in the studio are played out to the listener,” says McNally. It could be as simple as asking for another take, or as surprising as a recording error that creates a great sound.

“There’s a long history around the exhibition of sketches that come before the creation of a recognized masterpiece, but that’s never been done for music. By listening to the final album, we don’t know what came before or what was thrown out, or if certain changes were made because of a marketing plan. That’s where my interest lies.”

But hearing what happens is only half of the equation. The rest involves activating that knowledge in the School of Music’s new Create Lab: a dedicated, state-of-the-art recording studio where McNally and his students explore the role of sound recording engineers and music producers.

Enter the new Create Lab

Completed in early 2019, the half-million-dollar Create Lab is booked 15 hours a day by student composers, musicians, engineers and sound artists in the undergraduate Music and Computer Science program—unique in Canada—and with Master of Music Technology students.

“Mindy, Body & Spirit” by Carey Newman

“It all comes down to listening,” says McNally. “Our job as engineers is to communicate something—either through technical or verbal means—in a way that’s understood by the person on the other side of the glass. That’s the importance of having a space where you can understand exactly what the sound is.”

Victoria residents may also be familiar with one of McNally’s projects outside of the studio: he consulted on the audio component of the spectacular cedar sculpture “Mind, Body and Spirit” by local artist and UVic Audain Professor Carey Newman, which fills the ceiling of Pacific Opera Victoria’s Baumann Centre and serves to acoustically enhance the space for music-making.

Fusing professional experience with academic research

Working with a team of International collaborators, McNally will explore how “aha” moments during studio recordings are identified, critically evaluated and correlated to what we hear in the final mix. Prior to joining UVic’s School of Music in 2004, McNally was a recording engineer at Vancouver’s iconic Warehouse Studio. Over the years, he has worked with R.E.M., Bryan Adams, Foo Fighters, Sloan and many others.

“By listening to the final album, we don’t know what came before or what was thrown out, or if certain changes were made because of a marketing plan. That’s where my interest lies,” says McNally, who recently received a research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to continue his research.

The research will also take him to the newly established EMI Music Canada Archive at the University of Calgary, where he will explore the multi-track recordings and support material for two albums by ‘80s Vancouver band The Grapes of Wrath: Now and Again and These Days.

McNally is interested in why those Grapes of Wrath albums have become Canadian classics. “From a Canadian perspective, what is a Canadian sound? Is that actually a thing or is just a sales pitch?” he wonders. “These Days was mixed at Abbey Road Studios in London, and it does have a referential Beatles sound—but why? Was that only because they were in that space, or was it always part of the plan?”

The EMI Music Canada Archive spans 63 years of the EMI label, including 40,000 recordings and two million documents by The Beatles, Elton John, Kate Bush, Anne Murray, Buffy Sainte Marie and thousands of others. “This archive includes important information never previously available to researchers,” he says.

Back to the studio

Ken Scott (left) in-studio with Paul McCartney

Fusing research and application, his current project will culminate in two high-quality recording sessions at Leeds Beckett University in May—including one with legendary engineer/producer Ken Scott, who worked with the likes of The Beatles, David Bowie and Pink Floyd.

By revealing what happens in the recording studio, McNally believes future generations will be equipped to better understand the creative process and consumers’ response to how music is promoted and marketed.

This story originally ran  in a slightly different form as one of UVic’s KnowlEDGE research features in the Times Colonist on April 28.