Matthew Campbell on set, filming ‘Grocery Store Action Movie’. (Contributed photo)

North Delta-born filmmaker sees hope in booming industry

Matthew Campbell is a greensman in TV and films, but also an independent director

Sitting in the covered patio of Tugboat Annie’s Pub, Matthew Campbell takes a sip of his Rickards Red.

The North Delta-born, Gibsons-raised filmmaker is on his lunch break from his position as head greensman on the TV show Magicians, but he isn’t in a hurry to get back. There’s only three people working in the Magicians greens department, an area of the film industry that helps build sets using trees, plants and dirt (Campbell calls them “redneck set decorators”), and they don’t have much left to do that day.

It’s a rare slow day though.

“We’re always working,” Campbell said. “When this show’s over, when it’s quiet, I’ll go work with my friends on Legends of Tomorrow, or help out on Arrow or some features. We keep busy.”

Busy is the name of the game in the B.C. film industry, where Campbell has worked for the last 10 years.

Between 2007 and 2015, the operating revenue for film, television and video production in B.C. has nearly doubled, going from $659 million to $1.2 billion.

Right now, production in the B.C. film industry is also at an all-time high, with $2.6 billion in motion picture production spending estimated for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. This is a 35 per cent increase from the previous fiscal year, which had only $1.9 budgeted expenditures.

Related: B.C. film industry sees $2.6-billion boom

What this means for Campbell as head of the greens department is more people and more jobs. But it’s also given a bit of a boost to his career as an independent filmmaker.

“They’re really trying to push the independent filmmakers for Canada,” he said. “There’s a lot more funding options for independent films and independent filmmakers than there was 10 years ago.”

Aspiring filmmakers can get funding from places like Telus Storyhive, Bell’s The Movie Network, Telefilm Canada and Crazy8’s. But many filmmakers — Campbell included — still self-fund their independent films.

“I need to make money so I can put money back into my films,” he said. “Or pay off films from two years ago that I pulled out my RRSPs to do. Which I’ve definitely done.”

Although Campbell said there’s been a boost in small-scale funding, the larger sums needed for feature film production aren’t as available for independent movies.

“It comes to the point where if you have enough stuff that you have a good movie and you want funding, you’re probably going to try and get a couple hundred thousand,” he said. “And there’s not many places to get that.”

Movie production, even on a small scale, is a costly business. The first film Campbell directed, To Save One’s Self, cost him about $20,000.

It was filmed over four days in North Delta, at his cousin’s house. Set in a near-future zombie apocalypse, the film follows the story of a man who’s family succumbs to the crisis.

Originally, Campbell was going to shoot it for $500 with two actors in one room. But then Peter Wilke, a camera man with more than 20 years of industry experience in films such as Tomorrowland and Star Trek: Beyond, came on board as the director of photography, enticing Campbell to push the film into a bigger budget.

There were 30 people on set, with 20 extras in the film. The team had to get filming permits from Delta, allowing them to strew detritus and debris across the street.

To Save One’s Self, which came out in 2012, won a Reel Award in the 2013 Canada International Film Festival. It was, Campbell said, “just the biggest thing I’d done so far. Probably in my life.”

Since then, Campbell has produced and directed two other films in the off-time between his work in the greens department: Nightwing: The Darkest Night and Grocery Store Action Movie. He’s started a production company, Rogue Panda Productions, with a friend and has two feature film scripts searching for investors.

“I think I’m like right on the verge of getting something bigger and better,” he said. “And if I can really bang off the next big thing and do what they’re looking for, I think my career will definitely go up quite quickly.

“I’m also an optimist,” he added.

If Campbell does make headway into mainstream directing, he’ll likely be producing movies for an American company, which Campbell said tend to have more funding for those sorts of projects. He’ll be at the mercy of where they would like to shoot, and where they can find the best tax credits.

“The nice thing is Vancouver has that,” he said. “All these big things that come up here, it’s because we have very good crew. We have mountains. We’ve got ocean. We’ve got snow. You go to the interior … you’ve got desert.

“Vancouver’s a very, very desirable place, he added.

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