"Knowing that we created a positive environment on set is really important to me"
Brian McWha is a Vancouver based filmmaker who has started his filmmaking journey three years ago. Working his way up from production assistant and location manager to screenwriter & director, Brian treats every crew member equally ("No matter what the job title is, your job is crucial to the filmmaking process").
Brian's directorial debut, "Beautiful Cake" is a short horror film about two high school students who sneak into the seemingly abandoned mansion of the neighborhood legend 'Donny'. Believing him to be gone or even dead, they soon find that he is very much alive when he locks them in his basement.
"Beautiful Cake" is nominated for 3 awards at Top Shorts, including Best Narrative Film, Best First Time Director and Best Supporting Actress (Morgan Galavan).
We asked Brian to join us for an interview, and met a hard working artist who has been working non-stop on scripts, editing, and meetings ("I think there are a ton of filmmakers that are far more talented then me, so I need outwork them if I am going to get the same opportunities").
Brian, thanks for being with us today! Could you share a bit about your background, how did you get involved in filmmaking?
I’ve only been involved in the Film Industry for about 3 years. I started as a Production Assistant and worked my way up. I have always enjoyed the whole filmmaking process and wanted to be involved in the creative aspect, so I started to direct.
What do you like about the Vancouver indie scene?
it is amazing. It is this perfect mix of young crew that want to learn and grow their craft, with experienced union filmmakers that just want to create good content with the freedom that goes with indie films.
Congratulations on your triple nomination with Beautiful Cake: Best Narrative Film, Best First Time Director and Best Supporting Actress. Tell us how it all began... How did you meet your co-writer, Alisha Bourassa, and how did you come up with the screenplay?
Like all good stories, it began with having a drink at the bar. Someone made a comment, and I said that it would make a great horror movie. After a few more drinks I decided to write the story. A friend introduced me to Alisha, who came on to help clean up the script. She was instrumental in making it have good feel.
The film features excellent cinematography work. What was some of the visual inspiration for Beautiful Cake? Did you watch some thriller and horror movies before approaching production?
I was inspired by the older horror movies from the 70s and 80s. I made my cinematographer, Kenneth Lau, watch movies such as The Shining, and The Omen. To this day the 1976 version of the Omen is one of my favorite horrors.
What part of the production did you enjoy the most, and what the biggest challenge you had to deal with during this production?
Day one was the biggest challenge. The night before, Vancouver had an unusual large snow storm. We were filming on a small street right off a highway. The plows had come through and the road was completely blocked by a large snow bank. I had one Producer Jarvis parking cars on the side of the highway, and offloading gear. My other producer Raf was driving around looking for someone with a bobcat, and the Security Guard was doing donuts in his 4x4 trying to flatten crew park. It delayed us for a bit, however it was worth every moment getting a spectacular opening shot.
Overall, I think my favorite part of the production came to me just recently. I was visiting a friend’s set, and one of the camera people from Beautiful Cake came up to me saying that it was one of his favorite productions he had ever worked on. Knowing that we created a positive environment for everyone to enjoy is really important to me.
And what's the most important lesson you've learned?
I learned a lot in the editing room. We were trying to do a three day shoot in two days. We had to give up some shoots to make our day. When it came to editing, I learned the results of my choices.
No spoilers, but the chemistry between Morgan Galavan and Mathew Bittroff is off the charts! How did you work with them to achieve such incredible intensity?
First off, I’m super excited that Morgan got a nomination for her work. Between standing in the snow for hours with just runners on, to the bruises on her arm from the endless takes running into the wall, she always had great energy.
Since we auditioned them separately, I was worried about their chemistry. Once they met on the first rehearsal, I knew they were a great fit. It took some hard rehearsals and conversations to get their characters in the right space.
Beautiful Cake - Trailer
You often work as a location manager for some well-known TV shoes, including Supergirl, Frequency and Green Beret's Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse. What do you like about this gig? Can you share any fun set moments with us?
Every day is different challenge, and you always have to think on your feet. I love it when a problem jumps out at you and you say to yourself, “damn. I’ve never seen that one before” but 5 minutes later it has all been solved.
I had a funny moment with Arnold Schwarzenegger and one of my Production Assistance when working on Killing Gunther. She is standing on set watching some gear, and he comes strolling by with a cigar in his mouth. He walks right past her, stops dead in his tracks, turns, and in his thick accent says, “It’s pronounced Chapper,” then just keeps walking. She was giddy for hours.
You probably meet a lot of industry people on sets. In your opinion, what are some of the best ways to maintain and develop professional relationships?
Personally, I treat every person equally. No matter what the job title is, your job is crucial to the filmmaking process. Some people in this industry act like their department is more important than others, which is just not the case. Everyone has a job to do, and they all want to do the best job they can for the film.
As we all know, the film business can be very demanding... how do you balance between your personal life, and career, and what do you do in between productions?
What is this personal life you speak of? In the past year, I have been working non-stop on scripts, editing, and meetings. I think there are a ton of filmmakers that are far more talented then me, so I need outwork them if I am going to get the same opportunities. I’m hoping to take a bit of a break in April where I might travel for a month.
You currently have another short film in post-production -Once Upon a Lasagna. Is it a comedy? What can you tell us about this project?
It is a comedy about a girl who falls in love with her delivery guy. It was originally just a little project that was going to be done for some demo reels. The writer it let me re-write and direct it. It was a harder shoot than expected, but I think it will turn out great.
Do you have other projects in development? What's on the menu for 2019?
I finished writing a feature script called “Fish Food” with co-writer Neil Chase. We have won a few awards for Best Drama Screenplay in some festivals. I also wrote a pilot called Un-Undead. It’s a comedy about vampires who are tried of living and want to kill themselves, however can’t die. I’m hoping to go into production with one of these next year.