Byron A. Martin
Byron A. Martin is an award-winning producer that develops independent film, television and documentary projects. To date he has produced almost 100 hours of television, filming projects in fifteen countries. He has produced projects for Disney, Sony, Universal, Turner and Bell Media and managed productions for some of Hollywood’s leading producers (Jerry Bruckheimer, Sam Raimi, Lauren Shuler Donner, Raffaella De Laurentiis, Mark Canton, Dick Wolf, Laurence Mark, John Singleton, Ralph Winter and Don Carmody).
“Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, I moved to Toronto in the mid-eighties to attend Ryerson University to go to film school. Upon completing my degree, I remained in Toronto and have worked in production on numerous IMAX films, commercials, TV series, TV movies, mini-series and feature films over the last thirty years.
“In 2010 I had the tremendous honour of producing a 3D film event for The Queen [Elizabeth II] and the Duke of Edinburgh at Pinewood Studios. The Queen and the Duke wanted to see the making of a 3D film, so we set up a studio set, hired a fantastic cast and crew and asked Deepa Mehta to direct. When asked, after the presentation, the Queen simply replied ‘It was fantastic!’”
[Horror] is my favourite genre! I recall as a kid in Edmonton watching a horror movie that simply paralyzed me. I was glued to the screen. Couldn’t move. I’ll never forget it. Totally engaging and encompassing.
Amongst my favourites, Carpenter’sThe Thing. A great twist on the original. Here, the “Thing” can be anywhere and everyone. The cast, the production value, the music, all combined to make this a classic and a blueprint for what real collaboration can bring to project. Cabin In The Woods broke the mold…here, we see the man behind the curtain. It was a brilliant and what a ride.
There is always much to be learned from the classics because there is a real psychology to the genre. All of the essential elements come together: fear, surprise, suspense, mystery and the spoiler. Whether it is the known or unknown, seen or unseen, the genre revels in a generated atmosphere that spectacles the audience. Whether it’s from the master Tobe Hooper found in Texas Chainsaw Massacre or George Romero and Night Of The Living Dead, to the modern creators like Sam Raimi, Gore Verbinski, James Wan, Darren Bousman, Drew Goddard, Jennifer Kent, Tomas Alfredson, Oren Peli, David Robert Mitchell or Ana Lily Amirpour, you can see a real homage to the classics but at the same time updating the genre and reflecting it in a different light, making it their own.
I had the tremendous honour of working with George Romero on Land Of The Dead which was produced in Toronto. Equally, earlier in my career with Sam Raimi’s company on both Darkman sequels.
Horror is about nuance and capturing verisimilitude not only in the mind of your characters but for the audience. Then, the filmmaker craftsmanship becomes the toolbox and distinction – of how they choose their locations and design them, block their cast, move their cameras and edit the material. Thankfully the genre will never get tired because it draws upon essential human base emotions. And because of this, as the technological palette changes, so shall it result in someone re-shaping the box to profound new heights.
Of course, as a producer, the most important element is the script. Then, the director, followed by the cast. Like most independent filmmakers, the main challenge is financing to put together these essential elements, and in the correct order.
To achieve any undertaking, it has to be realistic and affordable. Often, horror scripts I’ve read are far too expensive and contain too many characters and locations. Blair Witch was a film and concept by design (I can tell you this because the producer is a friend of mine and I budgeted Blair Witch 3). If you have little money, you have to design a film that you can afford to make. This is the greatest challenge you’ll have because there are so many demands from distributors and sales agents today. The bar is high and you have to be very careful to be able to balance the needs and the outcome.
Also, consider your production timeline. Are you going to make one of the important genre Festivals in time to submit? This is an essential consideration and part of the marketing strategy. If you miss an opportunity, are you willing to wait a year? Festivals like Fantasia in Montreal is amazing and getting bigger and better every year. Director Patricia Chica and I have screened there twice and have attended the Market. Horror is big business and more and more companies are looking for relationships with producers and directors in the genre. It is always a collaborative environment and one of my favourite Festivals. To screen there is always a real treat because the audiences are simply amazing!
A number of years ago I was working with David Hackl, one of the directors of the Saw franchise and Production Designer Arv Greywal who I worked with on Land Of The Dead and Resident Evil: Afterlife. We were collaborating on a terrific horror screenplay that a colleague wrote entitled Guts. I pitched it to many. At SXSW, I met with Peter Block who was with FEARnet Television (formerly with Lionsgate) who was a big supporter of David’s and liked the script. Then, Cabin In The Woods came out…at SXSW. Timing is everything and when you are late out of the gate, its a killer!
Advice for the Community:
There is a language to film. And understanding this language requires a direct correlation to its components – history and what is new. I find that a lot of filmmakers haven’t seen the classics and don’t really understanding of the genre at its core. This is where very important script discussions come to play. Character set ups, pay off’s, static, flat and dynamic characters, the dialogue and act structure. Screenwriting is a craft! For years I have been working with the Female Eye Film Festival in Toronto at their filmmaker’s lab to pitch producers/distributors/agents their scripts. It always amazes me how few people work with a story editor or understand what this collaboration realizes. A good story editor understands the language and will help you with dialogue and structure. Most writers are good at either dialogue or structure – the ones working and making a living are good at both. I am also amazed at young writers who have never read a good script or read the screenplay of one of their favourite movies or Academy Award-winning screenplays for reference. There is a lot of good material that is readily available on the internet.
I took me over a year but I managed to convince a UK producer to partner with me on a John Briley (Academy Award-winning writer of Gandhi) screenplay, The Great Baby Blue. The characters jumped off the page, you could see the action, feel the locations. People thanked me for sending them the script.
As a producer who has been in production for thirty years, I spend a lot of time every year attending equipment shows and demos. I think one of the most important things for young filmmakers is to expand their toolbox and get a better understanding and appreciation of the filmmaking equipment. It is the best way to discuss concepts and collaborate with department heads if you refer to equipment that you would like to incorporate into a scene or design a sequence. This will ultimately save you time and money.
Collaborating on a film is all about communication. The more you know and reference material, the classics, ideas and designs the more you will engage people to get involved who will ultimately help make your film.
And the most important thing to remember…don’t be afraid to ask! No one has all of the answers. Filmmaking is a creative process, not a scientific one. The best of collaborations come from respect of people’s opinions which are based on experience, draw upon this and revel in the commodity.