It is the year 2040. China is the world’s dominant economic power, while North America’s decline has forced most of its citizens into degrading and menial jobs. In Toronto, two “silk-gatherers” collect and sell “spiz,” the remnants of secretions from giant arachnoids. Other jobs of the future include “digital janitor,” “baby-maker” and “human spam.” Such is the premise of a new Canadian film, Ghosts With Shit Jobs, premiered this week in London, England, and produced for only $4,000.
Is this “lo-fi sci-fi” the future of Canadian filmmaking? If the Harper government gets its way, corporate entertainment or art-on-a-shoestring budget are likely to be the only options left to Canadians. The 2012 federal budget delivered biting cuts to agencies that have supported Canadian film. The CBC, the National Film Board (NFB) and Telefilm Canada will each shed 10% from their funding with a loss of 650 jobs at CBC, 73 at the NFB and 16 at Telefilm.
I talked to one of the co-directors and the editor of Ghosts, Tate Young, as well as its writer, Jim Munroe, to get an idea of what it’s like making a feature-length film with zero public or private funding whatsoever.“We couldn’t have made this movie 10 years ago,” said Young. He was optimistic about the potential in the rise of high-quality but affordable digital cameras, as well as the Internet — probably the best promotional vehicle for anyone without a marketing budget. Jim Munroe agreed: “We were able to put together a polished piece of work very cheaply.”
To see the light of day, Ghosts relied on equal parts enthusiasm and altruism. Nobody earned a penny working on it. Outside of his day job at Global Television, Young devoted 1,500 hours to the project, and Munroe put in a similar investment of time.
Given the main focus of Ghosts is work, there is an eerie but unintended parallel between its dystopian vision of the future and the current reality for filmmakers. Ghosts is actually Munroe’s second feature; his first was Infest Wisely. He has also self-published, marketed and sold numerous books after publishing his first book with Harper-Collins. For Ghosts, an appeal through the “crowd-sourcing” website, Kickstarter, raised over $5,000 in three days that will now be used to take the finished film on tour to select cities.
On the phone from Toronto, Munroe summed up his vision for North America’s economic future, which might just as well apply to Canadian filmmaking: “No matter how bad it gets, people are going to be able to cope.”
One of those filmmakers still doing an admirable job of “coping” is Mark Slutsky, a long-time friend of Munroe. Slutsky provides a very different perspective on the state of Canadian film. While he enjoys doing the kind of “guerrilla-style” represented by Ghosts, a project he applauds from the sidelines, his own film successes have come with the help of public agencies. The full-length feature Slutsky co-wrote, Peepers, stared Jessica Paré (now famous to an even bigger audience since joining the hit TV show, Mad Men). Peepers was funded by Telefilm.
Slutsky is blunt about the federal budget cuts. “It was a smack in the face. They really are targeting areas like documentary film, which are Canadian traditions and for which we’re known around the world… Every cut that’s been announced has affected something that helped my career. You can really feel the axe swing close.”
Slutsky is enthusiastic about the zeal and volunteer spirit that made Ghosts possible, but he sounded a note of caution. “That kind of filmmaking is great,” he said. “But what you can’t do is provide jobs.”
Ghosts With Shit Jobs premiered at Sci-Fi London, the London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film, on Monday May 7, 2012 and will play in Toronto at The Royal on May 30. The film will play in other selected North American cities at dates to be announced soon. For more info visit ghostswithshitjobs.com.