Creating Magic on the World Stage
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Ben Proudfoot’s Breakwater Studios echoes the Golden Age of filmmaking.
In fact, their Hollywood location is in the same building where Walt Disney opened his first studio in 1923. Like Disney and other film pioneers, Breakwater Studios creates its films under one roof. Whether in the main Halifax location or the Hollywood studio, all aspects of production - cinematography, music, sound, colour correcting and editing - are performed in-studio. Combining this unique traditional approach with cutting-edge digital artistry and production, Breakwater Studios produces and distributes films to a myriad of markets, including traditional cinema, sponsored commercial films, and commercial content.
This daring combination of Golden Age craft with digital artistry has resulted in a magical filmmaking style, one the film world has taken note of with award recognition at festivals worldwide, including the Academy Awards.
And it all started on a dock on the Halifax waterfront.
From Halifax to Hollywood
“When I was 14 years old, I saw a magician, Patrick Drake, performing on the Halifax waterfront. After his act, I doggedly harassed him until he agreed to take me as a student. I started studying and put together an act with almost no knowledge of magic. It actually worked to my advantage, because I went on to win Canadian and World championships.”
Magic took Ben to Las Vegas where he began considering a different path.
“I really didn’t like Las Vegas. It was too hot and filled with people playing slot machines. Understanding this was the pinnacle of the magic industry, my interest started to wane, and ultimately shifted to filmmaking.”
From there, Ben started his filmmaking journey in a scene straight out of a movie:
“I applied for film school in Los Angeles, got rejected, and went anyway – major undeclared. From there I weaseled my way into the film theory program, graduated, and started my own studio. Now that studio employs ten people.”
Filming the Universal Story
Ben describes his work as making films that connect humans. His films tell deeply intimate stories of people who are making the most of their lives, sometimes in the face of enormous odds. From the struggles of the last paper shop owner in Los Angeles, to the trials of a retired professor attempting to reconcile former enemies in Rwanda through drama, Ben’s films beautifully express the universal story of ordinary people trying to make the best of what they have.
View ink&paper, the story of McManus & Morgan, the oldest (and once most prosperous) paper shop in Los Angeles, and Aardvark Letterpress, a family-run printing business dating back to the 1940s.
A focus on craft and struggle form the roots of Ben’s work, and those roots are planted deep in Nova Scotia’s own stories. In his early series “Life’s Work,” Ben tells the stories of six Nova Scotia craftspeople who create beautiful work in the face of hardship and struggle. This connection to the struggles and joy familiar to all Nova Scotians, to people everywhere, forms the foundation of Ben’s own craft-based approach to film.
View the trailer for Life’s Work, a series of short documentaries that follows the stories of six master makers in Nova Scotia, exploring their craft, their process, and ultimately, their lives.
“The thought occurred to me that there are only so many days in your life, so many times when it’s a beautiful day and you’re with people you care about and you can make a difference. My emotional story is that I’m trying hard to make the most of it.”
Nova Scotia - The Space for Opportunity and New Ideas
Ben applies the same philosophy to filmmaking in Nova Scotia.
“For kids just graduating from high school or college in Nova Scotia, they might think that coming from a smaller market, they don’t have the skills or experience. They might be thinking, ‘We can’t compete with people from New York or Los Angeles or London.’ I say you can. I say you can be even better. There’s nothing stopping you from being anything less than world class.”
Use the NSBI Film Fund Estimator to estimate funding for your next production in Nova Scotia.
According to Ben, filmmakers in Nova Scotia have already done the incredible- they’ve built successful film companies, an achievement difficult in any market. The film studio of the future needs to be flexible and fast moving, able to produce content for not only TV and feature films, but also in short form digital production and branded, sponsored or commercial content. Ben says there are filmmakers in Nova Scotia who are already doing this.
Connect with experienced location scouts and resources. Visit the Screen Nova Scotia website.
“Nova Scotia has a quality advantage. We have an unequaled base of the key creative people needed to make films. We have a lot of space - not only physical space - but space for opportunity and new ideas. We’re seen as independent thinkers, we’re seen as creative and colourful, and I think we can brand ourselves at the high end of that on a global scale. Filmmaking provides an opportunity to put Nova Scotia on the map in a way that hasn’t ever been done before.”
Learn more about Breakwater Studios and view the films at breakwaterstudios.com.
Our newest Global Advisor, Ben Proudfoot is one of more than 2,000 proud Nova Scotians, friends, alumni and expats involved in ConnectNS. Learn how you can get involved.