Danny Schur is a Juno-winning composer, producer, and writer for the stage and screen. His movie musical Stand! was number one at the Canadian box office during its release in 2019. It was based on his award-winning musical Strike! set against the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.
He’s worked with a who’s who of Manitoba’s major label recording artists like Chantal Kreviazuk (Sony), McMaster & James (BMG), and Doc Walker (Universal). Danny is currently developing his next feature, Spirit Lake, set against the WW1 internment of Ukrainian-Canadians, along with developing the recording career of Winnipeg singer Leah Janae.
When and how did you get started in the film and media production industry?
I’m a composer and record producer first and foremost and have been so since 1987. My friends joke that I make movies just so that I can do the scores and songs — which is not entirely untrue.
But I got started in film when I was introduced to Winnipeg director Joseph Novak in 2003 by our mutual acquaintance, Rob Kennedy. As it happens, Joe and I have sons born on the exact same day and in the exact same hospital.
That close personal relationship lead to me working on most of Joe’s projects, including the western Snake River, his and my first feature. I learned more doing the score and dialog replacement on Snake River than you can possibly imagine.
What area of the film industry do you work in now and why? What do you like most about it?
I am still a composer but, when it comes to my own films, I am a composer-producer-writer; I write the scripts, raise the cash to produce the films, and compose the scores and songs.
I prefer the job title of “the do whatever it takes to get it done dude.” There is no greater joy than bringing your own film to fruition. What I love most is the act of bringing art into being from nothingness.
What’s a substantial change you’ve witnessed since starting in the industry?
The biggest change is that Winnipeg has made a name for itself internationally in the film industry. Just yesterday, I was speaking to a director from Hollywood who said, “once you shoot in Winnipeg, you want to shoot all of your films there.”
There is now a critical mass of personnel, companies, catalog of acclaimed films, and awareness outside of the city that we have something special going on. And an important adjunct to the foregoing is that there is a generation of Winnipeggers who recognize that they can enjoy success, on their own terms, right here at home.
What advice would you most like to give to your past self?
Easy. “Don’t work yourself to death.” I suffered a heart attack two years ago brought upon from the tremendous stress and bad lifestyle choices of my all-consuming effort to bring my stage musical Strike! to screen as the movie musical Stand!
My family took on a monumental debt load, I suffered from debilitating insomnia and, in short, I almost paid for it with my life. Some would say, “big deal. Welcome to the life of every entrepreneur ever.” I don’t disagree with that statement but I temper it now with “work hard, yes, but work smart and put your health at the forefront.”
What advice would you give to somebody just starting out in the industry?
Make sure you have a broad range of skills. Unless you know really early that you want to be the world’s greatest film editor, I highly advise having a super-broad tool kit.
My twenty-two-year-old daughter (who wants to be a writer-director) and I discuss this all the time. Aspire to be that writer-director but also explore acting, graphic design, video production, creative writing, business skills, communications, and so on. Your employability is a function of your skillset.
If you could work on a project with anyone in the film industry, who would it be and why?
I’d like to write the tunes for a Disney musical. Writing songs is where my skillset is best employed.
What films, TV, or books inspire you or get you excited about your work?
Sheesh. Where to start? I’m a rabid consumer of all media, which either inspires me or infuriates me with its shitty-ness — which can be motivating in itself.
Most recently, the movies that I’ve been inspired by are Beans — set against the Oka crisis — and The Dig, the Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan historical drama set against a background of archaeology. That a movie about history, and archaeology, of all things, could be that inspiring is a testament to good writing.
Recently, I was mightily impressed and inspired by the TV series White Lotus and the Riel biography by Maggie Siggins.
Why is learning and training important?
My ninety-year-ish-old father-in-law would, till his dying days, state in wonder, “Can you believe it? I’m ninety years old and I can’t believe how much there is to know.” The day you stop learning, you’ll be six feet under.
What do you like most about working in the Manitoba film industry? Is there anything in your mind that sets it apart?
The Manitoba film industry has achieved Goldilocks status — big enough to be successful (i.e. you can make a living here) and small enough to be collegial.
There is no one that won’t give you the time of day in Winnipeg, which is so important for developing your network. That happens in larger cities too, of course; it’s just that there are an exponential amount of people competing for the gigs.
Do you have any other experiences or hidden talents you’d like to share?
I am a five-time-per-week rec hockey goalie. I suck on occasion but the moments of brilliance keep me coming back.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Producing more of my own scripts and writing songs for Disney musicals!
FTM is a member of the Province of Manitoba’s sector council program funded through the Department of Economic Development and Training. FTM builds a highly skilled and adaptable film industry workforce to support the activities of Manitoba production companies. FTM collaborates and partners with members of the film and television industry to identify training needs to support workforce development output.