Family and Film with Dylan Pearce | Super Channel


Family and Film with Dylan Pearce

Family and Film with Dylan Pearce

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Desiree D


A sweet festive story shared with family is a highlight for many during this holiday season. Christmas movies offer a chance to escape from the everyday and be whisked away to a winter wonderland, often resulting in a magical storybook romance. Family films are loved for many reasons; and just as the audience loves to watch them, Director Dylan Pearce loves to make them.

A pivotal loss and influential moment changed the course of Dylan’s life, from medicine into film. His passion for storytelling combined with family influence creates an environment where people can feel at home, while being whisked away into a grownup fairytale. His latest film, Christmas with a Crown, is a project close to his heart for many reasons, including the driving force behind this project, his late mother Mary Pearce. Filmed in Edmonton and filled with family and friends of the cast and crew including his wife and daughter, Dylan shared more about the incredible community that made it all possible.

SC: When did you first become connected to Super Channel?

DP: Super Channel gave me my start a long time ago and I have worked with them multiple times. They picked up my first feature Baby Blues, which was a lifetime ago, as well as 40 Below and Falling.

SC: How did you become involved in the film industry?

DP: I became involved in film at a young age when I learned the power of escapism, relatability, and storytelling. Just a chance to connect someone with something that they’re feeling or to take someone away and out of their everyday, even if it’s for an hour or an hour and a half. As a child I was in the hospital, so I decided that I was going to be a doctor. Life changed when my father passed and when I went back to school, my drama teacher came to me and said, “do you want to just relax and laugh? We’re doing some skits” and I was brought into the auditorium. I had never really taken drama, but I had forgot about what was going on in life and after that I was hooked on the idea of escapism and connecting people through story.

SC: After connecting with drama in school, did you end up pursing it through university?

DP: I did. After that I switched all of my stuff to focus on drama and storytelling. Then I ended up going to film school and that’s when we made our first feature Baby Blues, the film Super Channel picked up. It ended up playing in theatres and that kind of launched the film career.

SC: In one of your earlier projects, did you also do some work as a cameraman?

DP: At the beginning, yes. It would have been some 3D and VR stuff. I tried to play as many roles as possible to learn and understand what it’s like to be in those positions and pretty much did everything to get a sense of those roles on set.

SC: What drives you to directing?

DP: I think it’s the ability to craft the story and work with such gifted artists, whether it be the production designer, director of photography, or the performers. There’s one central idea that you’re working with other creators to bring to life. I love working with actors and connecting with character, then finding ways to bring that to the audience. The fascination of directing is on the ability to weave the story together with others through collaboration.

SC: Has Edmonton always been home for you?

DP: No. It’s a long story. I ended up falling in love with my best friend and she was an actress from Calgary, and I was from Ontario. The film school where we were in Windsor was more theatre based and she wanted to work film. She heard about Red Deer from her drama teacher and said, “I think I’m going to switch to go there.” So, I said “Yeah, Red Deer that sounds great.” I ended up going to their film school and that’s what gave me my start. And over time, fortunately for me, Ashlee became my wife and now we’re here in Edmonton.

SC: Have you worked mostly in Edmonton and area or have you been on different sets in the country or the world?

DP: It hasn’t just been here but other places as well. I’ve really worked on building projects here especially since we have a 22 month old baby now, and just building and working with the crew that’s kind of helped develop everything. So yes, staying closer to home in Edmonton and working together here.

SC: If Canadian viewers were to visit Edmonton, what are your top three favourite places you’d recommend?

DP: Oh, that’s tough. There are many things depending on your interests. The River Valley Park is bigger than Central Park in New York, so if you like nature or walks by rivers, going down the river in the summer when it’s not chilly, you can do that. There’s a lot of great cafes and there’s a huge theatre community here. We try to work at a lot of local businesses to showcase their restaurants or cafés, or anything that the story can find to support the local businesses. Like, Block 1912 which is the Christmas Café in the movie and it’s one of my favourite cafés where I do a lot of my writing and my creative work. It is located on Whyte Ave, which feels like a little small town downtown even though it’s in the middle of town, as it used to be a small town. Edmonton is really unique and has so many different views, and unique local shops in there. It’s not the main downtown like Jasper Avenue but it’s the old downtown from Strathcona, it has a really small town feel because it has that old style of buildings. Just the way they are. It’s like an old main street.

There’s also Ryans Castle, the castle we filmed in. It’s a real place and actually a BnB that you can stay in. It has a pool in it, you can get married in there, and they have horse rides in a really classical New York style carriage.

There’s obviously West Edmonton Mall, the ginormous mall here if that’s your thing. It has a variety for families and is great because there’s a huge water park and a theme/roller coaster park too. Obviously not right now when you’re not meant to be surrounded by people.

SC: Having been involved with many different genres, what was the draw to family-friendly programs?

DP: The first story that I mentioned earlier about how I got into film was about my dad who passed away when I was young. I grew up with my mom and she was infatuated with romantic comedies and holiday films. So, when I started telling stories and exploring the idea of film, she’s what drove my passion, supported my passion for film, and these were always her favourite films. We kind of grew up on them together. Christmas with a Crown in particular, is probably one of the most personal films that I’ve done. Three years ago, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and she just passed so she unfortunately did not get to see the film, but this was the last script she got to read. She was the one that just fell in love with the story and so I pushed it forward hoping that she would be able to see it. She was instrumental in my telling these stories because it was always for her. You know what’s going to happen in these stories but it’s finding a unique way to tell them, the journey and sharing that. She was like, “I think that he likes her. I don’t know if they’re going to get back together.” Even though you know they will, it’s just finding fun ways to tell them. I remember those moments of us; me watching her watch them and get so excited and I fell in love with the way she experienced these type of stories. It’s fun to experience them or tell them when they are done a little differently. Christmas Cupcakes, the previous film I did, I really pushed the comedy and the family element. I’m from an Italian family, so I guess that was a big part of me trying to focus on the family side of it. And with this film, Christmas with a Crown, she loved the story and it was kind of my love letter to her.

The days we needed snow or wanted snow; it would just magically snow for us. When we were in the market all the snow had melted. The nights we were there and were about to shoot, it just downpoured this wonderful snow. So, it was a nice little way to feel that she was still a part of it. Even though she didn’t get to see it, I feel that she guided me through that for sure.

SC: Christmas with a Crown is a coming together project for many reasons, including Covid. Did you face extra challenges in trying to wrap prior to shutting down?

DP: When we were building the Christmas market the joke was that we just told people we had given up on 2020 and we were just getting ready to celebrate 2021. So that was the joke in the beginning. It really was a testament to everyone coming together, especially as we were closer to the last few days. A lot of the things that we had put in place are what people are doing now on their projects, it was a challenge I’m not going to lie. We had conversations daily with the crew and cast about, do we want to shut down? What do we do? How do we want to best move forward? Collectively we decided to continue, because there were barely any cases in Edmonton at that time, and we had taken every precaution we could and own the location. We were kind of an isolated family together. That’s one of the reasons why I love shooting here. Our crews have become family and are kind of all making it together. I know it’s also tough because some people knew what the film was and what it meant, and I think people were wanting to find a way to get it across the finish line in that sense. We even looked at trying to wrap early and had a scenario where we just cut some shooting days out, but the crew didn’t want to do that. They felt it would be worse than just doing the two days that we planned and safely continuing on as we were doing. It was a testament to everyone kind of coming together because the things we were doing we were just learning and finding ways through it. Anyone who wasn't comfortable or couldn't be on set was fully compensated for any time they missed for the rest of the shoot.

We were working with Alberta Health to set the guidelines of how to best keep everyone safe. The construction companies were still going on so Alberta Health would share the things that were working for other industries, and ones that had multiple people. Our crew was small to start so we never really were worried about being over limits. The market was the most challenging day because we wanted to have like 200 extras but obviously, we couldn’t. So, our wonderful crew members would be on one side and then they’d come out wearing a different jacket and be walking through on the other side. Most of that is just our team that was there and made that market come to life.

SC: What is your favourite part about being on set?

DP: For me, I’m so fortunate to be able to work in such a creative environment. Every day is a unique challenge of how do we best tell the story and scene, and you see all of these creative minds coming together. There are challenges on film that are part of the everyday as you’re up against time, weather, etc. There are always things that you’re up against. It’s a wonderful scene to see this magic happen and for moments to come together. That’s really what a film is; you string together these magical moments and then they create something at the end. Just watching that come to life is still so magical for me.

SC: Where is your dream filming location?

DP: I am probably a bad person to ask. I only say that because I was on a film where we were shooting in Hawaii, which is beautiful, but after all day shooting on a beach, I just wanted to go into a movie theatre. Everyone was like, “you just want to go into a dark room?”

I’m really excited about shooting in the virtual production studio; that is my dream location. Just having the ability to have sunset for 3 hours or to be in the mountains. It’s not just two clicks of a button, but once everything is built you can bring anything to life, and I think that’s so exciting for me.

I really want to do a complete virtual production like the Mandalorian, because the worlds that we’re creating are so fantastical. I’m really excited to use the technology to make the perfect Christmas film with the perfect white snow with the big giant snowflakes, that the audience wants to feel. Because when you think about the holidays, that’s what everyone wants. When you open up the window, it’s just this beautiful white patch of snow. You either live somewhere where you don’t have that and you imagine it, or you live somewhere where it’s so cold and you just can’t wait for summer. I know for our performers one of the days we were filming the ice rink scene, it dropped to minus twenty something and that one was not so nice. Both Marcus and Lisa were great and just got through that with us. To give someone a perfect Christmas with the perfect white snow, can be built so easily in those worlds. So that’s what we’re kind of playing on now.

SC: Do you work with the same crew for most or all of your movies?

DP: I try to. One of the challenges in Edmonton is that there isn’t a huge film scene here, so you’ll have crew that’ll be in B.C. or filming in other places. You try to plan in advance so you can get everyone together to reserve this time. But like Andrew Scholotiuk, who I ended up meeting at Red Deer College when I went there, has been my best friend and my film producing partner for fifteen years. We’ve done pretty much every film together. We know how fortunate we are so we’re trying to bring in new producers to learn from us. It also reminds us that there are other ways to do things, things are changing, and we can find new ways to not only creatively tell a story but also connect with other areas of the industry. We brought on a new producer, Michael Lazarovitch, who was the announcer in Christmas Cupcakes. The way his mind works on how to build and connect community was just something else. The whole market scene in Christmas with a Crown, a lot of the lights and the giant tree, as well as structures that were there, came from West Edmonton Mall. They have these beautiful, fantastical displays that they put up, and he was able to connect with them and form synergies between us and them. It’s always great to bring on new people and bring new perspectives and ideas.

SC: Were you the one that was instrumental in filming Christmas with a Crown and Christmas Cupcakes in Edmonton? What was the draw to filming there?

DP: A lot of that selfishly is because I don’t want to be away from my family; I’ve learnt the importance of it. We were very fortunate as we moved my mom out here when she was sick to stay with us. My wife is a saint. Because we were about to have our first child, my mom got to spend as much time as she could with our daughter. The projects that I have control over, I really try to bring them here and beyond that it’s a great place to shoot. We have a great crew. It hasn’t been shot a million times, so there’s always new, exciting things to show off, find and explore.

SC: Your parents have been influential in your career. Looking to the industry, who would you list as other influences?

DP: There are so many. There’s a lot of the filmmakers and creatives I’ve been able to work with. Andrew, our producer on Christmas with a Crown, has been a huge influence and pushing me to always try for different things and take creative risks. It’s really nice to have as a director, rather than just “repeat, make this box fit into there and do it again.” I get to try new things. That’s been really a gift for me as a storytelling, to have that support.

Then there’s Dylan Reade, who is an IMAX 3D stereographer, so a camera operator, who lives in Edmonton. He came on our set and was part of 40 Below and Falling in 3D. He has worked on almost every 3D IMAX movie and is such a great creative force.

There’s also Demetri Portelli, a Cinematographer and 3D stereographer, who’s done Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo. He’s also worked with Ang Lee on his latest one in 3D.

Technology and storytelling are something that has been fused in me and a lot of that comes from my dad who had a passion for technology and Sci-Fi and so I’ve always had a fascination with using technology and storytelling together.

SC: You have alluded to exploring more of the technology side of things, but what other aspirations do you have for film?

DP: There are some books that I’m really looking at trying to build out into a series or limited series. Even though it might be a different genre there’s still the heart of the relationship and it’s the focus. The romance side is usually in them no matter where the stories fall. Also, I want to expand on these type of films and finding new, creative ways to tell them.

SC: How did the story of Christmas with a Crown begin?

DP: Our writer had a bunch of different concepts that were out there, and it was my mom that picked this concept out of all of them. I think we had 5 different ideas, and this was the one she really loved and so this is the one I said, “let’s do this one.”

SC: Combining passion for film, influence of family, drive for future projects, fantastical ideas, and freedom to dream, demonstrates why Dylan Pearce is exactly where he is meant to be. He not only creates projects for the audience to enjoy, but also honours those who directed him on this path or partner with him to make projects happen in the future. To continue to see where film and family will lead him next, connect with Dylan by visiting his website or finding him on Twitter or Instagram.

Twitter: @Dylan_Pearce
Instagram: pearcedyl