Cal­gary film­maker finds niche

How Cal­gary film­maker David Win­ning found niche with whole­some sea­sonal fare

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - ERIC VOLMERS

As a born-and-bred Cal­gar­ian, film­maker David Win­ning was not in­tim­i­dated when the Ot­tawa-area set of 2016’s The Rooftop Christ­mas Tree was taken over by a blast of ill-tem­pered weather.

The UP TV Christ­mas movie, which stars Heart­land’s Michelle Mor­gan and WKRP in Cincin­nati’s Tim Reid, is one of more than a dozen yule­tide-based projects Win­ning has helmed in the last few years. But it may be the only one shot in an ac­tual win­ter won­der­land. Most of the time, these whole­some hol­i­day ro­mances are filmed in the Van­cou­ver area and of­ten in the sum­mer. Fake snow is re­quired. Ac­tors must don un­com­fort­able win­ter cloth­ing and pre­tend to be cold.

These real bliz­zardy climes near Ot­tawa added an dif­fer­ent layer of dif­fi­culty to the shoot, par­tic­u­larly since it was the sort of project that re­quires a cer­tain ef­fi­ciency to ar­rive on time and on bud­get.

But Win­ning couldn’t have been hap­pier.

“It was like 30 be­low zero,” said the vet­eran film­maker in an in­ter­view with Post­media. “It was like typ­i­cal bad Cal­gary weather. It was prob­a­bly the hard­est con­di­tions I’ve ever filmed un­der. We’re shoot­ing this movie and we’re do­ing all these dolly shots and steady cam shots in the snow and cam­era­men are slip­ping and ac­tors are fall­ing.”

Nev­er­the­less, in sunny Los An­ge­les, ex­ec­u­tives were look­ing at the dailies with un­abashed joy, wowed at how au­then­tic it was all look­ing.

“They were say­ing: ‘This stuff looks amaz­ing! How are you fak­ing the snow?’” said Win­ning. “They were so used to the sum­mer. It makes log­i­cal sense to shoot these movies in win­ter places in­stead of try­ing to fake it in Van­cou­ver. So, yeah, Rooftop was a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence and it looks great. You just can’t fake that look. It looks like it was shot in the Arc­tic.”

Win­ning be­gan his ca­reer with a 1980 film named Se­quence, a scrappy 16-minute hor­ror short about a young cou­ple ter­ror­ized by a crazed me­chanic.

At the time, he was among the first gen­er­a­tion of di­rec­tors to emerge from the Cal­gary So­ci­ety of In­de­pen­dent Film­mak­ers. He never would have dreamed that nearly 40 years later he would be­come the go-to guy for earnest Christ­mas TV movies for Hall­mark, UP TV and Life­time.

This year alone, he cranked out at least three. Time for Me to Come Home for Christ­mas, based on the Blake Shel­ton song and star­ring Mera Park and Josh Hen­der­son, was shot for Hall­mark, as was Mar­ry­ing Fa­ther Christ­mas with Erin Krakow and Niall Mat­ter. A Twist of Christ­mas was filmed for Life­time, star­ring Bren­don Zub and Vanessa Lachey.

In 2017, he di­rected for­mer Full House star Jodie Sweetin in Find­ing Santa and was brought in for En­gag­ing Fa­ther Christ­mas, a pre­quel to Marry Fa­ther Christ­mas. His 2016 Hall­mark film A De­cem­ber Bride at­tracted 4.3 mil­lion view­ers. The Tree That Saved Christ­mas, star­ring Party of Five’s Lacey Chabert, was named by New York Times TV critic Mike Hale as one of five Christ­mas movies to watch in 2014.

Win­ning, who di­vides his time be­tween Cal­gary, Van­cou­ver and L.A., has al­ways been a pro­lific di­rec­tor. A ver­sa­tile gun-for-hire, he has put his stamp on ev­ery­thing from pre­teen fare such as YTV’s Mr. Young, to the grue­some, ac­tion-hor­ror vam­pire se­ries Van Hels­ing, to cult phe­nom­e­non Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, to sci-fi hits such as An­dromeda and Earth: Fi­nal Con­flict.

“When you’re di­rect­ing, you get into a lit­tle shoe­box ev­ery three or four years,” he said. “I only did Nick­elodeon shows for four or five years. Then I only did mon­ster movies and then I did a lot of sci­ence fic­tion for five or six years.”

Long be­fore the Christ­mas TV craze, Win­ning was ap­proached to di­rect He Sees You When You’re Sleep­ing. De­spite its creepy ti­tle, it was ac­tu­ally a feel-good Christ­mas fan­tasy. The film­maker ac­cepted, but was se­cretly think­ing: “I don’t do Christ­mas movies.” Fast-for­ward more than a decade and Hall­mark asked Win­ning to di­rect the Magic Stock­ing, a feel­good Christ­mas ro­mance. The film­maker ac­cepted, but was se­cretly think­ing: “I don’t know if I’m re­ally the Christ­mas guy.”

But Hall­mark loved the re­sults and soon Win­ning be­came a favourite of the net­work. This has co­in­cided with what seems like an un­prece­dented boom in de­mand for light and whole­some Christ­mas fare. So Win­ning found him­self spend­ing much of his year in the Van­cou­ver area shoot­ing Christ­mas TV movies. He also found, much to his ini­tial sur­prise, that he was en­joy­ing him­self im­mensely.

“It’s un- Grinched me in a way,” he said. “I started with the cyn­i­cal-guy at­ti­tude about these movies, but I’ve found the chal­lenge of sur­pris­ing peo­ple with them to be a lot of fun. The movies I’ve made have all been tear-jerk­ing and whole­some and won­der­ful. My mom is 95, so I feel like I’m mak­ing them for her.”

“My mom def­i­nitely does not watch Van Hels­ing,” he added with a laugh. “So I do the re­ally grue­some, gory, ex­cit­ing, ac­tion­packed Van Hels­ings and I do these so that she still knows that I’m work­ing and have a job.”

Win­ning cer­tainly found his niche at a lu­cra­tive time. A re­cent ar­ti­cle in Glam­our in­ves­ti­gat­ing the film phe­nom­e­non re­vealed that 85 mil­lion peo­ple watch movies on the Hall­mark Chan­nel be­tween Hal­loween and New Year’s. In 2018 alone, the net­work pro­duced a stag­ger­ing 36 hol­i­daythemed TV movies.

Are they for­mu­laic? Well, of course they are. They usu­ally deal with some sort of opposites-at­tract ro­mance. Usu­ally there’s a prodi­gal son or daugh­ter re­turn­ing home for

the hol­i­days and in the end ev­ery­one lives hap­pily ever after upon find­ing the true spirit of Christ­mas.

They are filmed fairly quickly and cheaply, usu­ally with at­trac­tive young ac­tors and a shoot­ing sched­ule that rarely lasts longer than 15 days. But Win­ning in­sists they are of­ten much bet­ter writ­ten than they are given credit for and fill a need in these trou­bled times.

“Of course, the sto­ries are al­ways go­ing to end up the same way,” he said. “But that’s part of the com­fort of Hall­mark now. There’s a se­cu­rity in a good Hall­mark movie, what­ever the sea­son. Even in the sum­mer movies, you al­ways know things are go­ing to work out.

“As sim­ple as that sounds, that’s prob­a­bly what they need and what they want and that’s why they watch the movies. It’s like a fire­place and Christ­mas tree at Christ­mas.”

Cal­gary-born film­maker David Win­ning has di­rected three Christ­mas movies this year, in­clud­ing Life­time’s A Twist of Christ­mas star­ring Bren­don Zub and Vanessa Lachey. His two other films will air on the Hall­mark Chan­nel.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.