Film Production Grad Shares His Story

Since graduating from the Film Production program in 2008, Mark MacLean has been keeping himself pretty busy, working on a variety of feature films, television series, commercials, and music videos.

Mark will be submitting his latest effort, The Forest Through the Trees, to film festivals later this year. The short film, which he produced while working as a Teaching Assistant at VFS, has a very special connection to the school – each department head on the project is either a current or former VFS Teaching Assistant from the Film Production program.

We recently caught up with Mark to discuss his experiences in the industry since leaving VFS. He even had a few helpful tips for aspiring filmmakers.

Thanks for chatting with us, Mark. Why did you choose to come to Vancouver Film School to study film production?

Mark: I decided to study at VFS because the one-year intensive program really appealed to me. I had already completed a post-secondary program and was keen on getting started in the business. In my opinion, the only way you can really learn about this industry is by throwing yourself into it. The best way to learn how to make films is to make them.

Can you tell us about life shortly after your graduation from VFS?

Mark: My first few months after graduation were interesting. My student loan had dried up, and I wasn’t sure where my next month’s rent was coming from. I basically said yes to any opportunity (paid or not) that came my way, and surprisingly enough, my first gig was paid! I was boom operating/sound mixing on a behind-the-scenes video for a rising country music singer which would later air on Country Music Television. However, that would be my last paid gig for a little while.

I continued to volunteer on music videos as they are quick credits to obtain, and they also allowed me to network with many different people. On one of these shoots, I met someone who had worked at the Weta Workshop on King Kong.  He had some work coming up in the Art Department on a few low budget features and, after getting to know me, got me on the production as well. That allowed me to gain valuable experience as a Set Dresser, On-Set Dresser and Lead Set Dresser – all within the span of a couple months.

Since graduating from VFS you have been very active in the industry. How did VFS help you?

Mark: VFS helped me realize the importance of collaboration, negotiation, and humility, especially when working with fellow classmates who offer a variety of unique perspectives. I come from a very small town in Eastern Canada where filmmaking is basically non-existent. I would write, shoot, and edit my own short films without having to discuss in any great detail my shot selection, editing style, etc. So my biggest hurdle in developing as a filmmaker was to communicate my ideas to others and be open to how they would interpret those ideas. Your classmates at VFS won’t always agree with you, but they will challenge you to reassess your decision making process, which was what I found most valuable as a student.

What projects are you working on now?

Mark: While working at VFS as a Cinematography Teaching Assistant, I produced a short film called The Forest Through the Trees. It’s in its final stages of post-production and I’ll be submitting it to a variety of film festivals later this year. What makes this film special was that each department head was either a current or former VFS Teaching Assistant from the Film Production program. I am extremely proud of the film, not only because our end product is very strong, but because of how much time and effort my crew invested in it.

My next project is a marketing campaign for the band The Meds. They are from my hometown of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island and their debut album has been produced by East Coast musician Matt Mays. My plan is to provide the group with a web presence so that current and future fans will be able to learn more about them and their music through interviews and behind-the-scenes videos. We are looking to shoot their first music video this summer and release it in the fall along with their album.

I’ve also recently relocated to Halifax, Nova Scotia where I’ve joined the lighting department of IATSE 849. I’m currently working on the television series Haven, and will most likely be working on the TV series Mr. D and Call Me Fitz by years end.

Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Mark: The only advice I can offer those students who are about enter into the work force is to show up. Two quotes that have stuck with me over the years are “90% of success is showing up” and “The busier you are, the luckier you get.”  You need to give yourself the opportunity to meet the right people. As much as you try, you can’t do it alone and you still have lots more to learn upon finishing school.

To future students, the education you’ll receive at VFS is just the tip of the iceberg. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own future. This industry is tough, but if you stay open to continuing to learn and are reliable, people will want to work with you.

Working 12-15 hours on set each day can be extremely taxing so I can’t stress enough the importance of finding a balance between your professional and personal lives.

Thanks for your time Mark and good luck with your future projects! 

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