The Killer Script: Grad’s Assassin Story Hits the Big Screen

Vancouver Film School In Focus Magazine – Issue 16 Cover Story
(Check out the June/July issue, and many more!)

It had been six years since Writing for Film & Television graduate Seth Lochhead first broke the page on Hanna, the teenaged assassin screenplay that captured the minds of critics and audiences around the world this spring. It was one of the first ideas he pitched to his instructors near the beginning of his year at Vancouver Film School.

Even then, in 2004, Seth was sure of the first scene sequence: a girl running through a snowy forest hunting a deer.

That creative seed bloomed this April when he attended the Hanna premiere in New York City – though he came close to missing it entirely. After getting lost in the subway system, Seth raced across Union Square to arrive at a red carpet full of photographers and promotional banners.

“I walked up the red carpet, and I was like, ‘Am I too late?’. It was very surreal because they make you walk the red carpet and you get your photo taken and there are 15-20 guys calling, ‘Look over here! Look over here!’ It was very weird because, obviously, my life isn’t like that. My life is: I sit in a coffee shop and I write.”

Though irrevocably changed in the wake of Hanna‘s success, Seth’s career was largely under the radar for years. Now just shy of 30 years old, he graduated from the Writing program at VFS in 2005 and, like many of his fellow graduates, soon began querying agents, managers, and producers – anyone and everyone who would be interested in reading his work. Many (in fact, almost everyone) left Seth’s queries unanswered, despite the fact that he had whittled his email pitch down to a single line and proposition: A young girl is trained to be an assassin by her CIA agent father. Do you want to read my script?

After clicking “send” approximately 400 times, the Los Angeles-based management company Circle of Confusion offered a response. They requested his script, kicking off a mutually beneficial relationship that would soon create the first big sale of a VFS Writing student screenplay to a major player in the industry – in this case, Focus Features.

Seth felt the effects of a hungry industry almost instantly: first came a ranking on the 2006 Black List, an annual listing of the most-liked unproduced screenplays in Hollywood, then an array of job opportunities flooded his inbox. It was definitely a surreal experience for a first-time writer torn away from his daily regimen of café food and free wi-fi.

“I was getting like 10 possible jobs a week,” he says, adding that these weren’t straight-up offers for work. “It’s like a cattle call and a bunch of people pitch on the same project. It was very flattering to get all that attention, but again, it wasn’t real attention. It was something that I didn’t understand right away. All Hanna did for me, as a screenplay, was put me on people’s radars for potential work.”

He was invited into the running to write screenplay adaptations for He-Man and Sherlock Holmes. Although these jobs eventually went to A-listers with a lot more industry experience, Seth benefited from making those connections and found homes for more of his original work. Warner Bros is now developing his horror-action script, Governess, which Michael Bay (of Transformers fame) will produce. Then there is Cader, “a western with zombies”, that Hammer Film Productions is taking on. The studio was previously known in the ’70s for their vampire genre movies, but more recently they relaunched operations and produced the remake of the Swedish hit Let the Right One In.

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Acting for Film & Television Open House, June 16

As many of our grads know, acting is the art of self-discovery. Students at VFS discover how their voice, movement, and engagement with other actors can be used as powerful tools for telling stories.

On June 16, aspiring actors will have an opportunity to learn all about the one-year Acting for Film & Television and four-month Acting Essentials programs.

You’ll get a taste of what the student experience is like at VFS and whether you’re ready to delve into who you are as an artist and what you could bring to the screen.

Acting for Film & Television Open House
Thursday, June 16, 6pm sharp
VFS Café
390 West Hastings Street (at Homer)

At this Open House, you will:

- Discover our acclaimed one-year and four-month programs
- Meet our faculty of working actors, including Head of Department Bill Marchant
- Connect with current students and see their work
- Hear from successful alumni

To attend this event, you can register online or call 604.631.3095.

Prairie Dog Film + TV Awards $1,000 to Writing Student

Current Writing for Film & Television student Jordan Mackenzie was recently surprised to discover he’s been selected as the recipient of the Prairie Dog Film + Television award for best student script.

“When I was told the news I was pretty speechless, all I could really do was smile,” he says. “To be recognized for something I’ve written was obviously a goal of mine, but I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly or so suddenly.”

The $1,000 award was created by Prairie Dog founder Ron E. Scott, himself a graduate of the Film Production program, as a way to encourage emerging writing talent in the entertainment industry. Scripts were vetted by VFS Writing faculty and staff, and Jordan’s winning work, Asphyxia, was awarded based on readability, character construction, and execution of the concept.

The script tells the story of two miners trapped in an underground shaft, struggling to stay alive. It was written as an assignment for the Short Script course where Writing students learn to make efficient use of a limited number of pages to tell a succinct, engaging story.

“It was not an easy task to choose just one recipient from among all of the talented young writers in our program for this incredibly generous award from Prairie Dog Film + Television,” says Michael Baser, Head of the Writing program. “Congratulations to Jordan Mackenzie and thank you again to all those at Prairie Dog who made this possible.”

A long-time industry veteran, Scott noted that “all submissions were exceptional in their own way; however, Asphyxia’s compelling story development and writing style stood out over the rest.”

Prairie Dog Film + Television began 17 years ago as Alberta’s underdog production company and has since risen to a position of leadership, with film and television productions such as Blackstone and Rubber Man. Today, its original content impacts a global audience and has received international acclaim.

Congratulations, Jordan! We’re looking forward to seeing more of your work.

5th Anniversary VFS YouTube Scholarships Almost Gone

2011 has marked the 5th birthday of the VFS YouTube Channel, and we’ve been celebrating in a big way!

Congratulations to all the currently and newly enrolled individuals who have received one of the scholarships, ranging from $1000 to $10,000. Time is running out, and there are only a few scholarships left in the following programs: Digital Character AnimationGame DesignSound Design for Visual Media, and Entertainment Business Management.

The deadline to apply is Friday, May 20, 11:59pm PST. Good luck!

Click here to find out more about the VFS YouTube Channel 5th Anniversary Scholarships and apply now.

Industry Celebrates VFS Game Design Campus

Vancouver game industry professionals were joined by Mayor Gregor Robertson, members of city council, current and past Game Design students, and other distinguished guests in celebrating the Game Design campus at 88 Pender Street.

The night, which also featured the announcement of the 2011 Game Design Expo Women in Games Scholarship winner, was a chance to tour the new campus, network, and play student games. Studios represented that evening included Relic, Radical Entertainment, Next Level Games, Tiny Speck Interactive, DES Games, United Front Games, Embassy Interactive, Exploding Barrel Games, IUGO Mobile, Microsoft/Big Park, Blackbird Interactive, and Roadhouse Interactive.

“I am very impressed with what the school has provided for young and creative artists,” said Diamond Liu of the Vancouver Chinatown BIA Society.” It will certainly be another icon of Chinatown.”

Check out more photos of the event below or on our Flickr page.

VFS Partners with Native Instruments

We’re pleased to announce an official partnership between Vancouver Film School and Native Instruments, the leading manufacturer of software and hardware for computer-based music production and live performance.

The partnership will give students in Sound Design for Visual Media access to Native Instruments unparalleled line-up of digital instruments, samplers, and sequencers, in particular Kontakt, the industry-leading sampler used to create the score for Avatar.

“This partnership really allows us to take advantage of what Native Instruments brings to the table with their products,” says VFS’s Head of Sound Design for Visual Media, Shane Rees. “VFS students will have access to an extensive software collection that gives them a better way to harness their creative powers.”

Find out more about Native Instruments at native-instruments.com.

Hanna: Student Project-Turned-Hollywood Success

In 2004, Seth Lochhead came into the one-year Writing for Film & Television program at VFS with a sense of determination:

“I always had a plan. When I decided to go to VFS I said to myself.. ‘I’m going to write a script and sell it,’” he said in a recent interview with the Canadian Press. “I had a lot of faith that I had the talent to pull it off. And I know that’s really egotistical, but I had this belief and everything based on that belief fell into place.”

Seth began developing the concept for Hanna for his final project with Writing instructor Brian Casilio. By the time he graduated, he had laid the groundwork for an exciting fast-paced thriller that he would pitch to about 400 agents, producers, and managers in LA.

Only two responded. Luckily, as Seth recounts in a guest blog post he wrote for us in 2007, one of them was Circle of Confusion. The management company helped build a lot of buzz for Seth’s work, turning it into one of the most-liked unproduced screenplays in Hollywood – according to the 2006 Black List.

Shaping the Story

The story of Hanna took many turns in the development cycle, which were eventually reshaped by Joe Wright once he signed on to direct. Saoirse Ronan, the young Oscar nominee from Wright’s Atonement, initially sent the screenplay to him.

“It wasn’t until later that I read an earlier draft by Seth Lochhead – which was far more Lynchian than the draft that I first read, which had been reined into a more conventional thriller with more about the CIA,” Wright says in a promo interview for Focus Features.

It was around this point that one of Seth’s original dreams came true: when he originally wrote Hanna, he envisioned Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett starring as the driven CIA agent, Marissa. (Why not?) With Focus Features now on as a distributor, that far-off fantasy became a reality. “It was the most terrifying script I had ever read in my life,” says Blanchett in this video featurette.

Her fellow Aussie Eric Bana soon joined the cast as Hanna’s father, Erik. “The script reminded me of. nothing; I thought, ‘I haven’t seen this film before,’” said Bana.

The makings of a Hollywood hit were all in place. Production began, spanning the globe – from Finland to Germany to Morroco. (The Hanna website has a great map of the film’s production locations.) Meanwhile, Seth – his work as one of the two credited writers (alongside David Farr) complete – waited to see what would become of his first screenplay.

Critical Acclaim

We’re happy to report Hanna is “Certified Fresh” on RottenTomatoes.com! Here are a few of the great things critics have said about Seth’s first produced feature film:

Hanna is kinetic, vibrant, sometimes a completely insane adventure; one of the best times you’ll have at the movies this year.”
- Richard Roeper

Hanna is an exuberantly crafted chase thriller that pulses with energy from its adrenaline-pumping first minutes to its muted bang of a finish.”
- Justin Chang, Variety

“When compared to the last 10 years’ worth of action films, [Hanna] feels like a goddamn revolution.”
- Paul Constant, The Stranger

What’s next for Seth?

Well, for starters, he’s coming back to VFS later this month to visit with current students looking to follow the same path to success.

We’ve also heard Seth has two more screenplays in development. One of them is currently at Warner Bros with Michael Bay (yes, the Michael Bay) attached to produce.

Congratulations, Seth! We couldn’t be more proud!

Discover the story behind the script, from first draft to global premiere, at vfs.com/hanna.


Act Out Loud 2011 Summer Camps

Vancouver Film School is once again inviting young actors to Act Out Loud for five days this summer. This is a unique chance for Pre-Teens (ages 9-12) and Teens (13-16) to gain valuable time in front of a camera, while experiencing the VFS Acting for Film & Television program’s approach to the craft.

In a fun and exciting workshop environment lead by top youth acting coaches, Mattie Shisko and Alison James, both groups will work on basic acting fundamentals, audition techniques, improvisation, and much more! Each participant will also receive a DVD of their on-camera work performed during the week.

To find out more about each summer camp and how to register, visit vfs.com/summercamps.

 

Fully Equipped: Building the Complete Filmmaker

Film school has long been the favoured launch pad for filmmakers. It’s where you gain your skills, knowledge, and connections. It’s also where you begin to make sense of the industry and where you fit in it. Going to film school is a statement: you’re not playing around.

Over its 24 years, the Film Production program at Vancouver Film School has made waves as the best place to learn the craft of filmmaking in a unique, intensive way.

Graduates include Karen Troubetzkoy and Derek Schreyer, the Creators/Executive Producers/Writers on CBC’s 18 to Life; Tim Whyte, an Assistant Director on TV’s Fringe; Cabral Rock, the Visual Effects Line Producer on Twilight: Eclipse; and long-time Kevin Smith collaborators, cinematographer David Klein and producer Scott Mosier.

Among the many options available to emerging filmmakers, the program has kept the pace – and often set it – for the level of equipment, software, and facilities students have access to over their year. But that’s not what makes it special, according to veteran cinematographer and Head of Department Don Hunter.

“We teach you to be the complete filmmaker,” he says from VFS’s Gastown studio (formerly known as Storyeum), which is playing host to the Studio Intensive – an immersive student-faculty exercise in large-scale set protocol.

“Some programs aim to create an independent, auteur filmmaker,” says professional Assistant Director and the Film program’s Production Supervisor Julia Courtenay. “Others aim to create a union member in a specific job category. I think what’s great about our program is that we cover all aspects; we blend the independent model and the studio model so [students] are really equipped for any level of professional life in film.”

Open to Discovery

A Noble Cause set photos by Tony Hoare

From day one, students gain a hands-on, holistic education and become well-versed in on-set protocol, the value of team collaboration, and the five core disciplines of filmmaking: directing, cinematography, production design, producing, and post-production.

Halfway through the program, they also choose to specialize in two of those areas. That means a student could take his or her first steps in kicking off a career as a producer-director, production designer-cinematographer, or director-editor (to name a few possibilities).

Often, they discover a passion for an area of filmmaking they may have never considered. Recent graduate Karl Kimmel (pictured above) came into VFS with some competition and festival acclaim as a young filmmaker, but wasn’t sure of the path he wanted to take.

“I found that I really loved cinematography, which I didn’t know before,” he says. “That was something VFS showed me – how much fun it could be and all the nuances of it.”

Remaining open to this kind of discovery is one of the qualities Courtenay wants to instill in future students.

“A lot of people come in and say they want to direct, but they really don’t know what else is out there,” she says. “And there are great livings and great creativity to be had in many, many fields in filmmaking.” Those who come into the program with the sole focus of directing might be selling their other skills short, she suggests.

“There’s nothing you learn here that won’t help you, should you ultimately wind up as a director.”

Discipline and Focus

“Here in Vancouver, we run into a lot of people who came to this school and are now working in various parts of the industry, doing a whole variety of things,” says Hunter. “A lot of camera crew people, a lot of lighting people, grips, and a lot of producers and post-production people, for sure.” He explains that while directing might be the goal for many new filmmakers, “all you have to do is look at any shoot out there. There could be a crew of 300 people easily, but there’s only one director.”

That’s one of the reasons the Studio Intensive shoot is such a valuable experience for students. Over two days, they function as part of a 15-person crew, working in different departments under instructors who mentor them through the motions of professional, studio-level production processes.

“We’ve got a much larger studio now than we have had before, and we’ve certainly taken advantage of it,” says Hunter. “And there’s a green screen element to this, so we’re throwing just about everything you could possibly imagine at them for this studio shoot.”

Current student Daniel Berezowsky Ramirez can attest to the vast amount of experience he’s gained already in the program. “The last few months have probably been some of the most intense in my entire life,” he says. “I have learned a tremendous amount, not only in the technical aspect – which has been enormous – but especially in the understanding of the filmmaking process as a whole.”

With an eye toward directing, he’s keeping his options open: “I’m also thinking about specializing in post-production. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn about the hidden power that an editor can have in shaping a film – sometimes being as powerful as the writer or even the director.”

The Studio Intensive itself is the conclusion of a production design exercise wherein students pitch, design, and build a studio set from scratch. By this point, they have previously experienced a location shoot in their first term, and after this studio experience, they’ll learn to blend the two together in a film shoot wherein they’ll be the creative drivers and will need to illustrate the knowledge, technique, and professionalism learned earlier.

The Results

It all leads toward what Courtenay calls the “crowning glory” of a year in Film Production. “I get really excited about the final projects because they’re the culmination of everything. Sometimes we just get a crew that gels so beautifully. They come back with footage that we’re proud of. It reflects not only everything we’ve taught them, but they’ve also added their own creative aspect to it as well.”

Kimmel’s final project, a short film titled A Noble Cause , is about a young army private who, while stationed in Iraq, makes a mistake and is caught up in a sequence of events that will come to haunt him. “The art direction is pretty incredible, considering we were able to recreate a marketplace in Baghdad and have military soldiers in full gear.”

Kimmel was fortunate enough to make a number of friends in the program with whom he would collaborate through graduation into his professional career.

“It was really great working with them because every show was so much fun. The atmosphere was great. We worked really well together. I made a ton of connections with people that I know are all going to be working in this industry one day, for sure.”

While directing his own script for A Noble Cause, Kimmel was elated by how far his creative vision had come: “When we were doing the Iraq scenes, we were shooting in the Richmond Night Market [an annual food and consumer goods fair just south of Vancouver] and there were about 30 people there, and I was in charge. That was a pretty cool feeling.”

Kimmel is now promoting this short through the film festival circuit, hoping it will be selected for screening and give his talents – and those of his collaborators – some much-deserved exposure.

The high quality of student work comes as no surprise to Hunter:

“What these students can accomplish after one year absolutely floors me,” he says. “And it doesn’t even take the whole year. Sometimes only three months go by before you start to see some really amazing work.”

Watch A Noble Cause in its entirety on VFS’s YouTube Channel.

Find out more about What You Will Learn in one year inside Film Production at VFS.

2011 Summer Intensives Are Coming this July!

Though spring has just sprung, we’re already thinking about the upcoming 2011 Summer Intensives, starting this July!

5 days. 10 intense and fun programs. Your one chance this summer to learn from our top instructors and experience what it’s like to be a full-time student at VFS.

Each program is carefully designed to give you a valuable educational experience, and Summer Intensive fees can be applied toward your VFS tuition if you choose to pursue a full-time program.

Last year, students came from 17 countries to be a part of the Summer Intensives experience. While getting a sneak peek at VFS curriculum, they collaborated and made lasting connections with a global network of like-minded artists all considering the same path.

This year’s week-long programs include Acting, Animation & Visual Effects, Digital Design, Entertainment Business Management, Film Production, Game Design, Makeup Design, Sound Design, Writing, and a special Experience VFS Intensive that allows you to get a taste of everything VFS offers in entertainment arts education.

Seats are very limited and many Intensives sell out quickly every year.

Click here to learn more about the 2011 VFS Summer Intensives and to register.