By Mary O'Shea
Many people think that the film industry is a cutthroat, competitive world. But according to Jith Paul, an Ottawa filmmaker and SAW Video member, it isn't, or at least it doesn't have to be. Paul believes collaboration, rather than competition, is the key to success. He is the founder and president of Treepot Media, a local production company that fosters collaboration through the production of documentaries, narrative shorts and music, event and promotional videos.
Paul is incredibly passionate about Ottawa, although he is actually a native of Toronto. He holds a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo, and originally came to Ottawa to work in that field. After about a decade of working as an engineer, he decided to take a chance, quit his job and go back to school. He developed his long-time passion for filmmaking through Algonquin College's television broadcasting program.
Paul became involved with SAW Video after graduating from Algonquin. "I looked into SAW Video because that was a good place to get equipment for indie productions at a very reasonable price. And also the workshops and the networking." He created Treepot Media as a way for emerging filmmakers to develop their skills and gain experience while working elsewhere to "pay the bills." Treepot was built on the premise of collaboration, and that is still Paul's mantra today.
Treepot Media reflects the friendly, close-knit nature of Ottawa's arts community, which Paul describes as "a big family." In fact, the company's origins lie in the Ottawa indie music scene. After graduating, Paul and some friends would hone their skills shooting performances by local indie bands and posting them online. Today, you can watch these videos through iTunes, as a part of Treepot.tv, "a collaborative sandbox where indie musicians, photographers and video/media types put together webisodes to practice their craft and promote their work."
Treepot quickly expanded from music videos to a wide range of successful projects. The company's first short, Polar Bear Love, was a winner at the 2011 Ottawa International Film Festival and a semi-finalist in CBC's 2011 Short Film Face-Off. Another short video collaboration, Moments, was a semi-finalist in the 2012 CBC Short Film Face-Off. Moments was also named Best Picture at the 2011 Digi60 Film Festival. Most recently, Paul worked on the feature Thirteen Downs, which premiered at the 2012 Ottawa International Film Festival.
A key component of Treepot Media is the Treepot Indie Filmmakers Showcase, which Paul calls "a celebration of local movies." The showcase has held three events within the last year, and the third, Treepot3: Under the Stars took place on August 10th at Dundonald Park in Ottawa. This free outdoor screening featured shorts and music videos by local indie filmmakers. Paul is pleased that these events have also become a valuable networking opportunity for local filmmakers and actors.
Although other Canadian cities like Toronto or Vancouver may have more industry jobs for filmmakers, Paul has no intention of leaving Ottawa. He says everything he needs as a filmmaker can be found in the National Capital Region: pristine locations to shoot, places like SAW Video to rent gear, good actors, and most importantly, good stories. He says that one of Ottawa's strengths is being "indie-friendly." Businesses throughout the city are supportive of independent film works, such as the Mayfair and Bytowne Theatres, which hosted the first two Treepot Showcases.
Paul is proud of the success Treepot has had so far, and has big ambitions for the future of the company. "I would love to see different groups replicate [this sort of] thing in different cities… I'd love to have a 'Treepot Toronto.'" He sees the potential future benefits of the work that Treepot Media does and its involvement in the local film/video community. He says that providing opportunities for young filmmakers in Ottawa to work and develop their expertise means "there'll be more skilled crew for big productions to use in town when they come through."
Paul himself has worked in a variety of roles on Treepot productions, such as producer, director, cinematographer and editor. He says he is drawn to many genres and types of films, and likes working on projects as varied as those he enjoys watching. As for his personal goals, Paul says he would like to someday direct a feature: "It would probably be dramatic but I would also want to use local musicians for the soundtrack and make it a very collaborative Ottawa thing."
His advice to young filmmakers is to seek out others in the community through artist-run-centres like SAW Video. "If there are people that do little films on weekends and things like that, just know that there are people out there that do the same things… you're not doing it alone, just look out there and you can learn from other people and you can help other crews to make awesome stuff."
To learn more about Treepot Media, Treepot.tv, and the Treepot Indie Filmmakers Showcase, check out treepotmedia.com.