Bubbling Up and Doubling Down — How to launch a film career in a pandemic (in Halifax)

Bubbling Up and Doubling Down — How to launch a film career in a pandemic (in Halifax)

Two young filmmakers who studied at King’s have earned major support from the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative

Brielle LeBlanc and Sean Galway, BA(Hons)’20, have found their “zone.” For nearly six months they have been developing a short film in a collaboration that has earned significant support from the Atlantic Filmmakers Co-operative (AFCOOP) through its FILM 5 program. Having completed Phase One of the program and been accepted into Phase Two, Sean and Brielle are making the most of this opportunity.

The two young filmmakers both studied at King’s—Brielle is currently taking a year off from a Combined Honours degree in Contemporary Studies and Cinema and Media Studies, while Sean holds a Combined Honours in Contemporary Studies and English. Though they describe themselves as “friends first,” their enthusiasm for working together is evident as Brielle describes a typical work call:

“We have our little pleasantries at the beginning of a call and then it’s—’Ok! Let’s talk shop!'”

King’s graduate Sean Galway is a producer of a new film project with Brielle LeBlanc, developed as part of AFCOOP’s FILM 5 program.

The collaboration began while working for the FIN Atlantic International Film Festival (FIN). Brielle recalls their first day on the job, telling Sean about a script they were developing as the two ate lunch. When Sean’s boss later mentioned the FILM 5 program at AFCOOP, Brielle’s script came to mind.

“I remember talking about the fact that we’re both interested in filmmaking,” Sean says, “But what do we do about that? Where do we go and what are the points of entry? And that’s when FILM 5 presented itself.”

The program takes its name from five-minute shorts—the type of film it was designed to help new filmmakers develop. Though it runs for two phases, only half of the teams from Phase One are accepted into Phase Two.

Brielle and Sean completed the first phase in the fall—Brielle as writer-director and Sean as producer. Discussing the experience, Sean explains “The point of the first phase is developing your project but … there’s a training aspect that runs through the whole thing: learning … the system of how films get made in Nova Scotia and Canada, and the expectations of the production—every stage of the game.”

As the program’s youngest participants, Sean and Brielle felt like they had something to prove.

“We definitely felt like we were the new kids on the block,” Sean explains. “We were thinking ‘we have to go into overdrive here.'”

“Definitely,” Brielle agrees. “We were always confident with the project from Day 1…. And it was just about being respectful, being appreciative, being grateful, and also—pedal to the metal! Working as hard as we could and proving ourselves. … That was the experience, and we had so much fun with it.”

Brielle LeBlanc is the film’s writer-director. As they enter Phase Two of production, they’ve bubbled with producer Sean Galway and the film’s two leads.

Their focus is paying off. Sean and Brielle were announced as one of the Phase Two teams in January. This phase is focused on production—that means that Brielle’s script is being made into a film.

Brielle explains that the script began as a series of poems that they realized could be developed “through a visual lens,” after working at FIN. Asked to describe the film, Brielle provided the following synopsis:

The film opens with Billy, a moody yet chill twentysomething, reading yet another poem about ‘them’—it’s the classic queer conundrum (‘Are we friends or are we flirting?’). Their roommate and best pal Dylan has been the support and audience for Billy’s poetic lament for a whole year, as this emotional boulder has slowly crushed them.

“As Billy continues processing their feelings and baggage through their poetry, the film image interprets the lyricism of their introspection in dreamy montage, bringing to light the abstract complexities of Billy’s emotional register. Once it all comes out, and Billy tells “them” everything, they realize the answer to this grief lies in its release—that there’s strength in vulnerability, laughter in pain, and self-discovery at the heart of self-expression.”

“I think it’s a story that can resonate with a large audience, regardless of sexuality or gender,” Brielle concludes. “A lot of people have been in a similar situation and know how much it sucks! The film is just a reminder that although crushes are painful, they can also lead to moments of introspection and self-growth. I hope to bring the balance to light in the film.”

Asked how AFCOOP will guide the production phase, Sean explains that while a more arms-length approach is an option, “we’re really trying to get as much out of our relationship with the cooperative as we can and really work with them.”

To keep their production schedule on track, Sean and Brielle have ‘bubbled’ with the two leads—NSCAD student Marley O’Brien, and King’s student Em Grisdale, who Brielle first spotted acting in ‘Classics in the Quad.’

Brielle has been thrilled to see their words come to life.

“My face hurts from smiling so much every time I see them acting it out. It’s one thing to write the script, and read the script over a thousand times, but it’s so different to actually hear two different, awesome people read it out loud!”

Meanwhile Sean is diving deep into their responsibilities as producer. While much of the funding required for production is provided through the program, including in-kind support from AFCOOP, Telefilm and the CBC, many other considerations remain.

“The program is really special—it really is a substantial amount of money for your first short … the task now becomes coordinating all the parts to get everything in place so that Brielle can get to work!”

Both Brielle and Sean are glowing about their experiences in the Nova Scotia film industry so far. Brielle points out how helpful veteran members of the film industry have been when approached for help, and Sean praises how much FILM 5 helps aspiring filmmakers understand the how to approach a career in film.

“They really set you up with what your trajectory could look like and what the basic blocks are…. So if we’re going to do this, we kind of know what’s coming.”

And if they’re going to do this, they want to do it here in Nova Scotia.

“I love Nova Scotia,” says Brielle. “I was born here—I didn’t always grow up here, but I’m back now, and I think it’s really important to show how great the community is and … shed some more light on the Atlantic film industry. I would love to be doing some more of that.”

Summing it up, Sean chimes in “We want to make it happen here!”

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