Six Questions for Brent Nurse

Brent Nurse, The Stronghold, Kingston, OntarioBrent Nurse has been busy working in film and video for over 10 years.

In recent years, Brent was Co-Producer and Assistant Director on the acclaimed 2012 feature film 21 BROTHERS, which went on to receive Guinness World Record for longest film shot in a single take. Last year Brent co-produced KCFF Steam Whistle Local Shorts winner DIGGING UP PLATO, directed by Leigh Ann Bellamy, and enjoyed success with the YouTube hit video OUT FOR A RIP, which he edited and co-directed.

This year Brent returns to KCFF representing two feature films; as co-producer on Leigh Ann Bellamy’s feature film FAULT, and with Brent’s own directorial feature debut of THE STRONGHOLD, co-directed by Steven Spencer.

Brent contributed an experimental short film to Danielle Lennon’s STRING THEORY, showing this year as well.

1.  Amongst the accomplishments you’ve amassed in the 10 plus years that you’ve been working in the  film industry, you’ve earned a Guinness World Record for longest film shot in a single take and contributed to the viral sensation Out for a Rip.  Tell us about yourself and your work.  What drives your dedication to making movies?

I have always loved film making. Right back to me making my first short, Freddy vs. Jason (yes that Freddy and Jason) when I was 13 – and cameras were not easy to come by back then. My education is mostly self taught and I live and breathe being a visual artist. It’s what I am. I’ve worked on so much but my most memorable works would be An Undertaking for which we got an Ontario Arts grant, MILO which was done with a Canadian Arts Grant, Do The Right Thing which was another viral internet You Tube video I did with Dave Hudson (before there were viral videos!). Some recent music videos for local musicians Reuben DeGroot and Nothin’ But Mental were a lot of fun to make and turned out very well. It’s so hard, I’ve worked with so many great people and made so many awesome music videos and short films, its hard to single any out.

As I said I have always been thrilled about movie making and continue to be. I love learning new stuff and working with new people. Every project brings different challenges and I love that aspect of film a lot.

2.  At this year’s Kingston Canadian Film Festival (KCFF), you will be premiering The Stronghold, a post-apocalyptic thriller that was shot in a then, soon-to-be demolished Kingston-area home.  How did this unique set, the script and key players all come together to make this project a reality?

It was actually during the filming of the Out For A Rip video that I first learned that Zane Whitfield, owner of North of Princess Studios, was planning on buying a house in order to tear it down and build a new home.  This was a very unique opportunity and I really wanted to jump on it so I came up with a few story ideas with my neighbour Brett and my co-director Steven Spencer and finally we settled on a post-apocalyptic thriller.   Our cinematographer, Curtis Campsall, came in with the idea to use a relatively new camera, the Pocket Black Magic, so that we could get the 70’s film style we all loved and would go along with the story really well. When word came that Zane was giving us the go ahead to film in the house and pretty much do what we wanted with it;we had our basic structure and we started running with it.

Steven sequestered himself and wrote the script over the March Break last year as he is a teacher and co-owner of Lakeshore School.  We had originally set out to have a low number of actors, since we knew we could easily find them in Kingston, but ended up with over fifty roles to cast.    Luckily both Steven and I have worked on many theatre and film projects, most notably King’s Town Players, and had a lot of great actors willing to come out and help. We had always had Zorba Dravallis and Nicole Garrett in mind for the leads and were lucky to get them both.  Other great local talent like Sean Roberts, Clayton Garrett, Gabe Meacher, Thomas Fairley, Steve VanVolkingburgh and Tobin Humphreys (only to name a very few) also came out and gave their time for this production.

We now had a location, actors and a script, but we needed costumes and guns and lots of both.  We were very very lucky to find  Mitch Sabourin and Mat MacDonald from Blackthorn Airsoft.  They came on board and supplied us with military costumes, weapons, props and a lot of knowledge. They were very helpful with training and safety and making sure everything was done properly on screen and off. Before they got involved we were just not sure how we were going to be able to do this movie on our zero budget.

3.  The Stronghold is a dark and original screenplay where genetic modification gone awry has turned the world we know into a horrific wasteland.  With elements such as cannibalism, classism and terrorism mixed in for good measure, one could easily interpret it as a cautionary tale of sorts.  What inspiration did you draw upon to pen the story?

Curtis, Steven and I are all giant fans of John Carpenter and a lot of his films share all the same themes. Escape from New York, The Thing, They Live, Assault on Precinct 13 are all films we drew from for The Stronghold. Anything 70’s dystopia, zombies or siege films were all inspiration. For more modern fair, Curtis really liked The Road and Book of Eli for the look of the film.

In researching this film we found that anything we could come up with was not nearly as bad as reality. Everywhere on the Internet and TV there are real stories of greed, cannibalism, war crimes, and child soldiers. You cannot escape these horrible stories so we all wanted to turn reality on its head and point our fingers at it while still trying to create a fictional over the top film that people would want to see. We wanted to bring these issues into the light in a fictional frame work that was easier to digest than a true to life film. In the end, hopefully making the audience go home and research some of these topics.

4.  The principle location for this film was a tremendous driving force, which afforded you a great deal of freedom to create a one-of-a-kind set.  Given its looming demolition, you obviously didn’t have the luxury of returning to re-shoot any scenes. What were the biggest obstacles and/or pleasures that you encountered as a result of creating and shooting at this locale?

I will say right off that one of the biggest pleasures was working with Zane Whitfield. He and his family gave us tremendous freedom and also helped while we filmed. I cannot thank them enough.

It was a great opportunity to be able to get into the house and do anything we wanted to it. This included being able to cut a hole from the second floor to the ground floor so child soldiers could repel down a rope, bashing holes in walls, and creating fake explosions. Our incredible set decorator Alex Hanes was amazing. Before filming I went in with gloves, mops and bleach to scrub the whole house clean, and then Alex came in after and made it look just disgusting. His fake dirt and mould in every corner, beat up walls and set dressing were amazing. Everyone was very grossed out by Alex’s work.

With the house being torn down we only had so long to film and we knew we could not come back months down the road to re-shoot if and when we needed too. Because everyone was volunteering their time and had day jobs, we could not shoot the film over 2-3 weeks like you would with a bigger budget so we shot it mostly over 3 weekends and several pickup days. To make sure we were shooting what we needed Steven and I edited as we went so that we could see right away if there were any pickups that we needed and then we could get them. Again we were very lucky to have Zane as a host since he would let us go back in and get any shots we needed when we needed too. This included him inviting me over on Labour Day morning for the demolition of the house and letting me direct a bit of the destruction for use in the film.

5.  Survival is arguably one of the most prominent storylines in The Stronghold.  Considering the relatively small size of Kingston’s filmmaking community, how are you able to survive and thrive as a filmmaker?  What sort of collaborative partnerships and talent exists today, and how would like to see them evolve in the near future?

Graphic Design and Filmmaking are my primary jobs but it is hard in Kingston and it has been a long journey. It is a relatively small centre when it comes to film work and there are a number of very talented people doing it in town. But with the internet and social media video is growing and more and more clients want it done so I think it will grow and there will be more room for more talented people to do it. I have recently started working with Amy Brown-Coleman and Above The Line Productions and am very excited about that.

I am very proud to have worked with local Leigh Ann Bellamy, a good friend and collaborator, who has her first feature Fault also showing this year at KCFF. Barbara Bell, Leigh Ann and I produced Fault together and I am very excited that it will be premiering. Another great local film maker is Josh Lyon who I have collaborated with several times. He produces really amazing stuff that I always love to see.

I have been very happy with my partnership with Steven Spencer and Curtis Campsall. We make a great team and I really hope we get to do this again. We were able to pull off a pretty decent film with very little cash and a lot of help from the film and theatre community, notably King’s Town Players and the Domino Theatre. I would love to see the connection between film and theatre grow in Kingston. Theatre is a very strong part of the art scene here and lends itself well to film. We have incredible actors in this town and we know a lot of them. We are very lucky to have that. Good acting is hard at any level of film.

6.  Looking ahead to this year’s Kingston Canadian Film Festival, what are your expectations? Aside from the screening of The Stronghold and Fault, what other films and events are you looking forward to?

I am pretty excited this year with my own film and Fault premiering. I also contributed a short to String Theory by  Danielle Lennon which is screening on Feb 25th at The Tett Centre. I am really interested in seeing Berkshire County by another Kingstonian, Audrey Cummings.

All the events look very exciting this year but I am jazzed that Marc Garniss, General manager of the fest, is combining more music and film events. He has Ron Hawkins from Lowest of the Low playing a show and involved with the doc Luck’s Hard that is screening. The opening night party is featuring B.Rich and Deaner from FUBAR part 1 and 2 – that will be very cool. Another friend of mine, Lederhosen Lucil is playing with By Divine Right and showing one of her videos this year too. Not to mention Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor playing at the Tett Centre. All in all a very exciting year and that’s just touching on a few things.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

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