“North Preston is the largest black community in the country that was once a safe haven for escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad but has since been painted as one of the biggest hubs for pimping and human trafficking in the nation.” Director Jaren Hayman on THIS IS NORTH PRESTON which screens at this year’s edition of the Whistler Film Festival.
Congratulations on your film playing and welcome to the wonder that is Whistler Film Festival! So is this your first time here and are you planning to attend your premiere?
Yes first time here and myself and some of the cast will be at the premiere.
When was the moment you said to yourself “I want to get into the movie business” and what have you worked on in the past?
My path to where I am now has been all but traditional. I used to be in the music business as a drummer and in management. I started cutting my chops with some small music videos but when the artist we were working with for 4 years quit unexpectedly at his peak, I knew change was needed. I had an idea for a comedy short film – a spoof on The Walking Dead called “Alpacing Dead” where instead of Zombies people turn into Alpacas. I ended up writing the script, getting the cast and making it happen. That dumb 8 minute short got me my first feature documentary BODUGUARDS: SECRET LIVES FROM THE WATCHTOWER which had a successful theatrical release in 2016, now on Netflix, and here we are on my second feature doc.
So how did this doc come together?
My old partner from the music industry had a new artist he was working with Just Chase, the main character of our film, and he wanted me to do a profile piece on him. The more Chase told me about his hometown of North Preston; the pimp culture, history, police relations, or lack thereof, and systemic racism faced, I knew I had to tell the story. I couldn’t believe a town like this existed in Canada. As a filmmaker I was drawn to the uniqueness of the story, but once I got there and got engrained in the community I realized how important of a story it was to tell. We don’t shy away from the problems the town has experienced like accepted pimp culture, community violence, or economic instability, but we dive deeper into the why and how these problems came to be. This town has been around for over 200 years, surviving on it’s own with little help and limited resources. When a place is cast aside by society like North Preston has been, there are going to be effects that get passed down to generations.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What is your drive?
I happen to love the entire filmmaking process. Pre-production is awesome because it’s new and exciting and you’re learning so much about a topic, immersing yourself. Production is the most challenging, especially when making a documentary because you can only plan so much and then have to feel out direction. Editing is like one giant puzzle and then scoring the film brings it to life, giving it a heartbeat. They’re all great in different ways.
So if you were to pick one moment that you would consider the biggest challenge of making the movie, along with the “a-ha, we GOT it” moment, what would each of those be?
The biggest challenge was gaining the trust of the community to tell the story properly. There is a lot of sensitive topics that we cover, both from inside and outside the community. Having the key cast trust me to do this properly and without bias was key.
As for as the GOT it moment, probably halfway through making the score with my composer Sammy Tetzba. We made a ton of the music and sounds from scratch and with the help of the Wallace Family choir, I think the music gives an incredible back bone to the feel of the film.
Could we get technical for a second? For my tech-savvy and filmmaking readers, I would love to know about the visual design of the movie and how it was photographed.
We shot on an URSA for our main cam, but used a GH5S with a gimbal a ton for movement and run and gun. I love a ton of movement in my work, and my DP Brian Hamilton was a master with the gimbal to make this happen. There are also some directing easter eggs in there. For example, everybody who is from North Preston has a close up from the from, while everyone interviewed not from North Preston has a side profile, showing that they have different points of view on the community.
After your WFF screening, where is the movie going to go next? Theatrical? Online? Any dream screenings or exact theatre in mind?
We signed distribution deals with Northern Banner in Canada for a theatrical release and Virgil Films in New York to do our US distribution. They are great shops and I am excited to work with them.
We do have a lot of people out there looking to be inspired and work in the industry in one way or another. What is a piece of advice that you would give to anyone looking to get into the motion picture business?
If you’re being called to the business, just keep pushing don’t let letdowns or no’s deter you from your goal. Always be learning and leave a good impression. Half the battle is being somebody that people like working with. Referrals will come if you are.
And finally, what is the single greatest movie you have ever seen?
This is not a popular opinion but my favourite movie is the 1994 classic SPEED with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. Why? When you have 30 minutes in person I can explain.
(Editor’s note: Let’s have a drink during Whistler Film Festival, Jaren.)
THIS IS NORTH PRESTON is one of the many films screening at this year’s Whistler Film Festival. For more information on times and the festival, visit www.whistlerfilmfestival.com. And hit the hashtag for our full interview gallery!