Photos by Camille Horrocks-Denis.
ELAN summer staff Camille Horrocks-Denis sat down with Benjamin Warner, General Manager of Beanduck Productions, in their office in Montreal.
Benjamin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about how Beanduck Productions was first established?
Beanduck Productions was founded in Summer of 2012 between myself and Julian Stamboulieh, who is one of the three current pillars of this company. We were best friends and roommates at the time and we knew we wanted to work together. We combined our strengths, academic experience and knowledge, and decided to form a film production company. Julian studied Photography at Concordia and I studied Film Production at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. We wanted to make our own creative projects and short films, but knew we had to start by doing work for corporate advertising to supplement our creative praxis.
What would you say were the major milestones between now and the very beginning?
For the first year, we focused mainly on corporate projects to pay the bills. Then we wanted to produce something more creative, so we started making a low-budget web series in the Fall of 2013 called LARPs (Live Action Role Play) with the money we made the previous year. We published it on YouTube and overnight, it amassed 60 000 views, which was remarkable to us. Afterwards, we reached out to blogs, websites and other publications to write stories about our series. What launched the show’s success was when an L.A. weekly publication wrote about LARPs and compared it to a similar and highly successful show, The Guild by Felicia Day. When the article came out, Felicia Day watched the pilot of our show, and contacted us to license the content. Instead of getting tens of thousands of views, we started getting hundreds of thousands of views, as her channel has a large amount of subscribers. LARPs ultimately amassed over 5 million views. The profit from that first season went on to finance making a second season, for a total of 22 shows. This really launched us as serious contenders in the film and artistic community here, and was an important milestone.
Another important step was getting major financing for our first “legitimate” 10-minute short film, Dystonia, written by local writer and actor Kenny Wong. We have received approximately $30,000 to $40,000 from both federal and provincial grants, and have applied to dozens of film festivals around the world. Getting this budget has helped us feel a bigger sense of confidence and credibility in our company.
A big move for us was moving into this new office space, which we have been in since November 2018. We got to a point where working from home or meeting in cafes was no longer sustainable, and we wanted a space where we could provide performer services to better sustain ourselves. With this new office, we can now offer self-tape services where we record, edit, and send the audition tape and send it directly to the casting directors. We also do video and demo editing, headshots, and we just finished our sound booth where we can now invite voice actors to record their voice demos, with coaching from Holly Gauthier-Frankel and Carlo Mestroni.
Another important step is the incorporation of Elizabeth Neale as our third co-director of the company to complete the three pillars of leaders needed to help this company function. She was an actor in the series LARPs and became a co-producer. She brings a lot to the table as she is very savvy with outreach, marketing and publicity, and currently fulfills the role of Communications Director, where she monitors community outreach and how our brand is perceived by the audience and our peers. Julian works as the Artistic and Executive Director, which involves a lot of creative and big picture forward thinking, and I work as the General Manager, where I focus on executing these artistic goals and managing financial goals.
What are your future projects and goals for the coming years?
We definitely plan on continuing and developing our corporate services. We just finished the post-production for our aforementioned film Dystonia, and are currently in the fundraising phase for our next short film, The Forest, by another local writer, Frank Marrs. It is loosely based on the suicide forest in Japan. This film is very important to us because we want to maintain the conversations about mental health, and to remove the stigma, the taboo and shame that often is associated with this issue. We decided to volunteer our time to this project, making sure all profits go towards mental health services. We just hosted a fundraiser in our office where we raised $7000 out of $8500, so if you want to donate, please check out our gofundme campaign.
We have also been in development for a web series called Party Princess, written by Denise White. It’s this witty comedy that tackles the princess party industry and raises questions about the sexism, the racism, and sheds light on the queer culture that exists in that world. It talks about how feminism should be intersectional and include people of color, First Nations women, and other minorities. We are currently in the process of financing that project but we are all very excited to move forward with it. A teaser for it is available on our YouTube channel.
We also have some material on our channel on twitch.tv, such as a web series that is now on an indefinite hiatus [Depth of Field]. We receive guests for each show, and one of them more recently was Jesse Eisenberg, Oscar Nominee for The Social Network. There’s also Cosplay Cave, where the host and guests work on their Cosplay costumes and talk about issues in the Cosplay community such as sexual violence. It advocates for the fact that Cosplay should be respectful, and that Cosplay is not consent.
We really just want to keep being a unifying force and a hub of resources for the performance and artistic community in this city.
Would you say that being an English company in this province is challenging?
The short answer is yes. We are very aware of the reality in the English language arts and entertainment in this province that many artists end up moving to Toronto or Vancouver. However, it is 2019, and we have this great resource called the Internet, where you don’t need to move to those cities to audition. Casting agents will look at different cities to cast actors and request self-tapes, which makes moving to those cities not as necessary. It’s as though artists have entered this negative feedback loop where the success of your career depends on you moving to those bigger cities. If people keep moving away from Montreal, there won’t be as many opportunities here. We at Beanduck Productions want to dig our heels into this city to show that we can flourish, even as an English-speaking organization. I think it is still possible to restore some balance.
What are your thoughts about the film industry and the sea of free entertainment that is available? Does that create obstacles, while establishing an accessible platform to sharing your work?
There is for sure a lot of free entertainment out there. As I had mentioned before, our show LARPs amassed five million views. However, that does not mean that those five million views were as lucrative as one might think. Advertising revenue really only gives you so much; I could count on my two hands the people that arrive at sustaining themselves only by their YouTube channel. Those are the people that don’t put out 22 episodes in 24 months – they post videos every single day, and they are filming themselves with a drastically low budget, usually at their desk facing their webcam, and they are getting millions of views per day.
What is the biggest limit for English-speaking artists that live in Quebec, in your opinion?
On the performance side, there are fewer roles to audition for, comparative to the French side. The French-language arts industry is indeed very self-sustaining. As I said, however, you can send self-tapes to English speaking cities. Montreal is, in a way, a smaller pool to swim in. However, that can present some benefits, as there are less people competing for the same roles or positions than in cities like Toronto and Vancouver.