20 for the 20th – Reel Careers Profile Series: Aaron Graham
When and how did you start in the media production industry?
Quite by accident in a practical sense, although I’ve been obsessed with film my whole life – all genres, its history and development since the silent era, filmmakers, screenwriters, acting styles, the technical side through “American Cinematographer” and “Millimeter” magazine… you name it.
This tunnel vision put me in a situation ten years ago now where I began working on a science fiction dystopian feature shooting in Winnipeg. Mostly everyone on the show were new to their positions, or else not from North America. It was a real trial by fire situation where I read a lot of union agreements in a fast clip to learn the ropes. I learned simply by execution what to do and what not to do. I stayed with it for the duration of the shoot, thinking it would be a once-off, but soon got called by another production over the winter months for another independent feature. I took it, and then yet an entirely new group of production staff contacted me after that one ended for a television series. And then a feature for a studio… and on and on and on. It’s continued on like this since that time, and I’m still learning more and more as I’ve moved up the ladder.
What area of the film industry do you work in now and why?
For the last several years, I’ve been employed on a variety of films as a Production Coordinator but have recently been working as an Assistant Production Manager. Every – and I mean every – show I’ve been on, I’ve been able to learn something imperative on the business side from the Production Managers and Line Producers I’ve worked with. It could be small, it could be big, but I’d like to think that’s the answer to the Why. It only adds to my perspective and to my metaphorical wheelhouse.
I read an interview with Wes Craven once where his advice for those wanting to be in film was to take a job… any job… in the industry. Now, his first job – after previously being a college professor, mind you, with a young family – was as a bicycle messenger transporting reels of film for post-production houses. (This being the late 1960s.) I’ve never been a bicycle messenger, but the sentiment is still the same: work in and around the industry you want to be employed in, and if you stick with it and are driven and cordial and show up on time, you’ll begin to meet like-minded individuals or employers who will want to keep you around.
What has been a substantial change in the industry since you started?
We’re attracting newer crew, and I’m glad for that, as the workload is only growing more and more in the city. It’s just been announced 2019 is the biggest year yet for production; 2018 held the title previously. Sensing a trend?
If you could give yourself advice today to yourself in the past, what would it be?
Don’t worry about following any pre-ordained path and have faith you are where you need to be.
How did taking FTM training affect your career?
Early on, I established friendships with FTM staff based on a mutual love of the intricacies of filmmaking. I listened to what Adam Smoluk and others would recommend in terms of upcoming courses or which productions are seeking in specific departments. That first sci-fi feature I worked on was because someone at FTM noticed I had taken some courses and, being aware that the city was keeping Director’s Guild of Canada members busy, mentioned my name to a producer.
What advice you would give to someone starting off in the media production industry?
Never stop learning. One of my favourite movies is SERPICO, with Al Pacino. In the film, he’s a detective who’s constantly got his nose in a book, interested in art and enriching his life with experience, and it’s in direct contrast to those other detectives depicted who have become complacent. I think it’s wise – not to mention much more fun and interesting – to live your life being inquisitive, no matter the age.
Apply this to your work in film. Try to understand the demands of other departments and see things through their eyes. Also, learn how to read a room.
What are some of the films, TV series or even books that have inspired you? How about anything new you’ve been into?
Sam Peckinpah’s PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID is the standard answer for my favourite film, with its score by Bob Dylan. I love westerns. The Criterion editions of Michael Powell films and the second part of that director’s memoirs, “Million Dollar Movie”. Claude Chabrol’s BETTY.
Francois Truffaut’s “The Films in My Life” was an important book when I was a teenager – it’s a collection of his film criticism and a perfect gateway for a budding cinephile. I read it at an early age and kept a separate notepad of all the titles mentioned, so I could seek them out later. This meant films by Jean Renoir and Robert Bresson, but taught me to even look at the more esoteric qualities in American stuff – like Arthur Penn’s THE LEFT-HANDED GUN. (I guess that means two films about Billy the Kid are on this off-the-cuff list.)
I could be here all day, so I need to be restrictive. It’s October, so of course I’ve been watching horror, stuff like the AMITYVILLE HORROR series. AMITYVILLE II – by Italian director Damiano Damiani – is really interesting tonally. It’s really unsettling and perverse, but works.
I’m on vacation at the moment and going to see NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE at a drive-in – for my money, no finer horror films have ever been made. (OK, apart from ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE EXORCIST…)
Is there something about you or an interesting past experience that you’d like to share with your colleagues?
Keeping it related to my work in film: Location shooting in Churchill, Manitoba with a First AD who worked on every James Bond film since FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) and a director who was once the editor on my favourite film of all time (see previous question).
Is there a film technician or filmmaker that you would really like to work with and why?
Never meet – or work – with your heroes.
Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?
Continuing to do what I’ve been doing, and working in film while still studying the art. Writing.