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Jamil Karim was able to reach local filmmaker David McDonald for a telephone interview this morning. The talented young artist's film Empire City will be featured at this year's Vancouver Short Film Festival.


Synopsis: There is an energy crisis in Empire City. When Mickey gets involved in the criminal underworld, he finds himself in the middle of a dilemma that could affect the entire city.


Jamil's Review of Empire City: After previewing Empire City last night, all I can say is wow. In Lehman’s terms, Empire City is a very, very, cool film. From the plot, to the characters, to the great use of camera effects, this short film is a must see at the VSFF this year. The use of cutting edge technology in the film was the highlight, as it lead me to believe that the film was taking place a little bit into the future. The film at times gave me a “Minority Report” and “Matrix” type feel.

The ending of the movie was interesting, leaving much up for interpretation. It was unclear as to what exactly had happened, but this allows the viewer to interpret or predict what he or she thinks could have happened.

The acting in the movie was stellar, and along with the filmmaking, helped this short film look extremely professional and well done.


Interview with David McDonald

I am jumping ahead, but I just have to know... what was the intention with the ending?
The ending is supposed to portray that Emerald will not be sabotaged by Pyricle. Pyricle’s intention was to sabotage this new, good corporation, because Pyricle wants to continue to profit off their source of energy in the city. When Mickey decides not to sabotage Emerald, it is supposed to show that Emerald is now going to succeed because of what Mickey did. It is still left a little bit open, because we don’t see what happens, and something could still go wrong. What’s important is that Mickey did something to try and stop this perpetual hold that Pyricle has over the city’s energy.


Did the use of technology/visual effects provide any problems for you during the filming?
There were not a whole lot of problems while we were filming… I wouldn’t shoot anything too crazy if it would be too hard to put the effects in after. There was a lot of pre planning and making sure we shot things that would make it easier in postproduction.


Why this plot? An evil company with a monopoly, does this have any metaphorical reference to real life? Companies who aim for mass amounts of power and control, and don’t necessarily care about the public?
Yeah, definitely that’s pretty much exactly it. I’ve just seen so many corporations in the world; whether it be tobacco, fast food, or oil companies and they definitely know what they’re doing isn’t the best for the people. They know what they’re doing is not good for people, but as long as they’re making money, they won’t stop. Pyricle is a representation of those companies. If something comes up, that interferes with their business; they’ll do whatever they can to stop that from happening.


All the scenes were shot at nighttime. Did that provide any challenges in the filming? I heard the camera was close to being destroyed because it almost fell off the dolly.
[Chuckle] Yeah, filming at night was definitely a challenge. We chose to use a camera with good low light capabilities. We had a small generator with a few lights on the street that helped. The other thing is that we were able to shoot in the car more easily because the camera was really small.

We were out one night outside SFU and we had the camera on a dolly, and I don’t really remember what happened. I think we hit a bump or something and the whole rig almost fell on the ground. Luckily the camera operator, Cedric, caught the camera and it wasn’t all destroyed!


The actor Conor Gomez, how easy was it for you to choose him? He did a great job and seemed perfect for the role
Conor is actually a friend of mine. I worked with him on a film about a year ago and I got to know Conor pretty well. We are pretty like-minded and we agreed on the kinds of things we thought were good. We got along really well, and when I was writing the script I thought Conor would be perfect for the role of Mickey. We were already friends and we saw eye to eye on a lot of things, and he’s also a very talented actor. It wasn’t hard picking him at all.


He kind of looks like Keith Urban a little, doesn’t he?
[Chuckle]. Yeah he does


Empire City was featured at the World Film Festival a couple months ago. There were quite a few great films there, what was it like being a part of that?
It was a lot of fun. I went to Montreal with a few friends to see the screening. There were a lot of films from the French part of Canada, which were a lot different, compared to the films we do here on the West side of Canada. The whole experience was just a lot of fun.


I read that you started your filmmaking career at the age of 5, when you got a hold of your dad’s video camera. 2 questions: Were you shooting anything like Empire City when you were 5? And, be honest, how much have video cameras evolved in the last 20 years?
[Chuckle]. When I was 5, we would go on road trips and my dad would always film road trips and holidays. I was always just curious and would take the camera because I was really interested in it. A few years later, my friends and I would make some movies and we didn’t really have any computer editing software so we had to do all the editing from the camera. We would always come up with these silly stories and do some improv. I did do some stop-motion films as well.

And yes, technology has definitely evolved. Nowadays, I can record HD video on my phone and plug it into my computer and edit something in 10 minutes. It’s amazing how much it’s changed.


Young Cuts Film Festival ranked Empire City in top 100 short films in the world. Where does that rank in the list of accomplishments in your life as a filmmaker? And how important is that recognition for the success of the film in the future?
It was a really big honor to be chosen in the top 100. I was pretty happy and it definitely helps the future of the film. Young Cuts has films from all over Canada, the United States, and even in Europe so it’s definitely cool to be recognized and to be put in the same categories as those other films.

The film also got nominated for best editing at that festival, which was also quite exciting.


What is your favourite part of the film?
Probably the sequence at the end when Mickey starts hacking into the main computer. I like how its intense and how you don’t know what’s going to happen next. I also really liked the effects. They took me a really long time and I’m really proud of them. I also liked the music that my composer did at the end of the movie. The hopeful and sorrow guitar music at the end of the movie I thought worked really well.


If you could change one thing about the film, if anything, what would be it?
If I had to change one thing, I would probably have liked to have more dynamic camera movements. We sort of ran into some problems with the camera [none of us had shot with it before], and we didn’t realize the camera had such a sensitive focus. This made it tough to move the camera on a dolly in the middle of a shot. Sometimes we did takes where we pushed the dolly really close to Conor’s face for dramatic effect, and it was very tough to keep it in focus. Because of this, I was unable to use a lot of those shots in editing because they went out of focus.


What do you have in store for your next film? Are you even thinking that far ahead?
I’m looking to shoot something next summer. One of the ideas I’ve been tossing around is something like a Western. Not like a cheesy Hollywood Western, but more of a serious, realistic Western, kind of like a “There Will be Blood” style. Also, in my 2nd year I did a Post Apocalyptic film and I would like to revisit that idea. I also plan on doing a couple music videos in the next few months as well.


Is there competition with the other students who are also at the Film Festival? Or is it generally a very supportive atmosphere?
Yeah, there’s always a bit of competition in the air. At my school everyone would usually help each other, and give each other advice. There’s definitely competition, but I think people prefer to not talk about it and keep that to themselves. There’s always competition when it comes to films, especially when there are awards at the end of it.


On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you for the VSFF?
I would say a 9 or a 10/10. It’s a pretty big festival and it’s in my hometown. They only chose 10 films so I’m stoked that they chose me. Yeah, it seems like it’s going to be a great festival and I’m stoked to be a part of it.


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