We recently sat down with Graham Cairns, our Kelowna campus Digital Filmmaking Department Head to chat about how he got started in the filmmaking industry, our filmmaking program, and what he thinks about moving from the set to the classroom. Here’s what he had to say!
CAT: Thanks for meeting with us Graham! So when did you first develop an interest in filmmaking?
Graham: I was very much into the art scene when I was younger. At that time, before I got into the filmmaking industry, I had two or three super8 film cameras and a video8 video camera. Me and my friends would hang out and shoot videos and short films. Years passed and I went to the University of Saskatchewan where I completed a degree in Anthropology and Archaeology. Soon I decided I needed to get a “real” job, and while I was visiting Vancouver I saw Unforgettable being filmed. There was this mass of people working on it, they all seemed my age and my kind of crowd. I was tired of bouncing around doing jobs that weren’t cool, and until then I didn’t actually know they filmed big productions in Canada, I didn’t know that was a career choice. So the fact that there’s lots of people, lots of films and opportunities – I thought maybe I could be one of those guys, and that’s how it started. I decided I’d move to Vancouver from Saskatchewan and enrolled in film school.
CAT: Tell us about your career in filmmaking, how did you get started after graduation?
Graham: I graduated film school in the mid to late nineties and began working as a volunteer, production assistant, grip, and various roles in the lighting department. My first big break if you can call it that was when I worked as a production assistant on a film called I’ll be home for Christmas which was a big feature movie with Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Then, I got on a show called The New Adams Family, which was great because it was a steady gig for a year and in the film industry a steady gig was good especially when you’re starting out because you’re fighting to get in and get experience.
I worked on lots of great shows, and worked my way up to being assistant director. I worked as assistant director on the TV series Outer Limits, and the feature films Scary Movie and Scary Movie 3 which both went to #1 at the box office.
Meanwhile I was still dabbling doing my own work, shooting my own commercials, and corporate videos. Working on Stargate SG1 for several years was a great show to work on, being on that crew you’d work on Atlantis as well because they’d send us out to trade crew if they were short people or needed extra people for a special shot. (Photo: Graham on the set of Stargate SG1)
CAT: From all your years in the industry, what are some biggest highlights for you?
Graham: Some of my career highlights were working on the film White Noise with Michael Keaton which was great because I grew up watching him as Batman. Another big highlight was working with Harrison Ford on Firewall because I grew up watching him as Hans Solo and Indiana Jones. Working with him was awesome even though I was very nervous. I’m usually pretty good with them, but because he is a mega star, I felt like, oh my god this is scary! In 2008, I came here to begin work in the Digital Filmmaking department. The last show I did before coming to Kelowna was Another Cinderella Story which is a big one with the kids because Selena Gomez was in it and I now can say I know Justin Bieber’s girlfriend.
CAT: What has been your experience as an instructor and department head at CAT? Have there been any highlights of your teaching experience that you’d like to share?
Graham: First and foremost, I’m always excited by the creativity and energy of the students as they come to the Centre and am always highly impressed by their film projects. The films that our students make are really, really good and everyone can be really proud of what we do here. Our films can stand up against anybody, and I’m willing to put my name behind that.
I enjoy working with them throughout the program and I’m so excited by their success! It’s such a pleasure to see them come here, grow and gain experience, then graduate and go off to become successful in the industry. I feel like a proud dad when they come back and tell me how much they care and appreciate the education and experience they gained here and share their stories.
CAT: What activities/events have you been recently involved with as a Department in the local filmmaking community?
Graham: I don’t go out on film sets anymore because it’s a lifestyle and I couldn’t do both at the same time, so I send my students instead. As a department, there were three Movies of the Week this past summer which the current filmmaking students were involved with. Last year there was a western called Flicka 3 that students worked on and throughout the year, there are networking events that happen now and then that we bring students to, to network with the industry here. Our annual film festival is a great way to celebrate our student work and a chance for the students to really have a great time; it’s the highlight of the year.
CAT: Tell us more about your personal involvement in the local filmmaking community:
Graham: Personally, I was on a panel earlier this summer with the provincial government because they wanted to get a few people together to talk about the state of the industry. I’ve been a part of events when politicians come through town and they want a voice of the film industry. I am the primary person in the Okanagan that they come to since I’ve worked a lot in the film industry, and am now a representative of film and education training.
I’m also an active member of the Director’s Guild of Canada because I want to contribute to what the future of the industry is. I don’t necessarily need to be out on a film set anymore, but I can help shape what the future of filmmaking in Canada will look like, and that’s more important to me now than the other bits of the industry I used to work on.
CAT: Have you found it difficult to make a transition from the set to teaching film?
Graham: It’s easier to make the switch from the set to my role as Department Head, then it would be from this job to the set because the set is really long days. It’s a very active lifestyle, you need to be fit, strong, able to work on your feet, and manage in a very fast paced environment. Whereas, this is different, teaching is balancing a lot of different things. As an assistant director on many films I managed crews, actors, extras, and scheduling. I had to be a real leader in those roles, and that’s what I think my greatest strength is moving into this job. That’s the great thing about film industry training, it’s a very transferable career because the skills you learn in filmmaking you can use for all sorts of different careers.
CAT: Thanks so much for chatting with us Graham!
Check out the Digital Filmmaking blog again soon for part two of our interview with Graham. He’ll be talking with us about what to expect when starting out in the filmmaking industry and some advice to those aspiring to be filmmaking industry professionals!
Interested in Digital Filmmaking?
Students in the Centre for Arts and Technology’s Digital Filmmaking program are immersed in a practical film studio setting from day one. Our 18 month Canadian film school programs are offered in Kelowna, BC, Halifax NS, and Fredericton NB. Visit our program page or contact us to learn more about how you can get started on your film training in the near future!
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