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VIFF 2007 Interview – The Green Chain director Mark Leiren-Young

The Green Chain - Screening at VIFF 2007
by Jason Whyte

“Dylan loves trees and he's living on a platform a hundred feet up to prove it. Ben loves trees too -- and he cuts them down for a living. Leila loves trees -- and she loves the publicity that comes with saving them, what superstar doesn't? The Green Chain combines seven stories about people willing to risk their lives to save the forests and the people who survive by cutting them down.” Mark Leiren-Young on “The Green Chain”, which screens at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (; September 27th-October 12th).

Is this your first film in the VIFF? (Or the first film you have) Do you have any other festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favourite and least-favourite parts of the festival experience.

Yes. It’s my first film at VIFF and my first film. I’ve had a lot of amazing festival experiences, but in theatre, comedy and music festivals. Film festivals are a whole new ride that I’m thrilled to be taking.

Could you give me a little look into your background (your own personal biography, if you will), and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

When I was a reporter at The Williams Lake Tribune I interviewed a logger about his brand new machine that he described as, “a mill on wheels.” While he boasted about his beautiful machine, he was complaining about the damn environmentalists from the cities who were taking away all the jobs. As one of those damn environmentalists, the interview always stuck with me and created the first link in The Green Chain.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!

“Writer.” I started giving that answer when I was in elementary school. In high school I told people I was a writer.

While you were making the movie, were you thinking about the future release of the film, be it film festivals, paying customers, critical response, and so forth?

Yes and no. A big part of making a movie is funding it, so I think you have to consider those questions unless you want to pay all the bills yourself. In terms of response, what mattered most to me was getting the stories right.

How did this project come to fruition? If you could, please provide me with a rundown, start to finish, from your involvement.

In 1991, I wrote my first radio drama for director, John Juliani, for CBC Radio’s flagship series, Morningside. It was called Dim Sum Diaries and it was a series of five thematically-linked monologues dealing with how Vancouver had changed -- or was perceived to have changed -- due to recent immigration from Hong Kong. Before we even recorded Dim Sum, John and I started talking about taking on other issues the same way, especially the story we both felt defined BC -- trees.

The Dim Sum script attracted attention as soon as it was finished. I had five offers to stage the play and there was talk of publishing it. Then an episode was censored and then, when the whole play finally aired, there was another round of controversy. There were calls to ban the play, destroy the master tapes, fire John from the CBC, fire me from the CBC (which would have been a challenge, since I didn't work there) and politicians across Canada listened to tapes of the play. Meanwhile, teachers from across Canada asked if they could use the play to deal with multicultural issues in their classrooms.

At the height of this surreal ride I remember turning to John in his basement office at CBC Vancouver and saying, "if we really wanted to stir things up, we'd do trees." John smiled and our next pitch to CBC Radio was, “the tree series.” We pitched it repeatedly over the years in various ways with various titles. We also talked about doing both Dim Sum and "the tree diaries" on TV and discussed how we'd stage it -- single character, single set, single take…

John and I started talking about this again years later when we worked on Articles of Faith -- a play about same sex unions and the Anglican Church -- that John and his wife, Donna Wong-Juliani, commissioned me to write for their legendary theatre company, Savage God. That premiered in May, 2001.

On August 21, 2003, John died of complications from cancer. The City of Vancouver honoured John’s memory by declaring his birthday, "Savage God Day." To celebrate Savage God Day I finished the script we'd always talked about. I showed it to Donna and told her that with John gone, no one would ever be crazy enough to produce it, but at least I'd finally written the script.

Donna read it and said, "I'm crazy enough to produce it. And you're going to direct it." My friend, Tony Wosk, said almost the exact same thing, the exact same night.

And that's how we started our crazy journey up the tree...

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?

If you ask my producing partners I suspect their answers will have something to do with money... But I think our biggest challenge was finding the machine for our logger. One reason the movie took so long to make was because we couldn't find a feller-buncher or processor in a place that was accessible – and SAFE. Looking for a feller-buncher or a danglehead processor and driving along real logging roads, it became very clear to me how so many loggers die in the woods each year.

Oh... and I guess directing fourteen minute single take, single camera shoots with no edits or cutaways presented a few challenges too...

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

I wanted this to feel like a documentary, so I wanted a documentary cinematographer to shoot it. I emailed three friends who were involved in making some of Canada's best documentaries (one’s an Emmy winner, another worked on The Corporation and the third is a top producer at CBC TV). I described the project and asked them who they felt the best person was for the movie. The next morning I received two emails telling me the number one choice was Kirk Tougas, and one saying he was the second choice. I asked that person why Kirk wasn't in the top spot. His answer, "because you'll never get him."

My deal with Kirk was that we’d talk about everything except aspect ratios, film stock and anything else that had a number in it and/or sounded like math might be required. But the answers [in technical terms]; we shot most of the movie with a Panasonic SDX900. Our tree-sitter sequence was shot with a consumer DV (a Canon Elura 85) because that seemed true to the type of camera a tree-sitter would have 100 feet in the air. Since then, everything has been magically transformed into HD.

Talk a bit about the festival experiences, if any, that you have had with this particular film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings? (This can also apply to non-festival screenings as well, if you have had one.)

It was fun hearing after night one of our screening at the Montreal World Film Festival that this captured the voices of rural Ontario, then hearing after our second screening that it captured the voices of rural Quebec.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

I’m inspired more by individual movies than specific filmmakers, and for The Green Chain, I studied Nettie Wilde’s Blockade – which Kirk Tougas shot and our sound designer, Gael MacLean, crafted the sound for. But the inspiration for this movie was John Juliani who directed one movie -- Latitude 55. Find it. Check it out. Tell your friends.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself directing larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

As a writer, I already work full time writing TV scripts and screenplays. As a director, I’m happy to see where this leads. No grand master plans beyond hoping I get the chance to do this again.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other career do you think you would be interested in?

I’d be writing something else…

Please tell me some filmmakers or talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object

If money is truly no object I’d hire some science wizards to bring Humphrey Bogart and Orson Welles back from the dead.

Do you think that you have “made it” in this profession yet? If you don’t believe so, what do you think would happen for that moment to occur?

You’re interviewing me about my movie! Doesn’t that mean I’ve made it?

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

It depends on the film. I think traditional critics/media can make a film, but a passionate response from non-traditional media can too. It’s a 2.0 world. So if you’re reading this, link to it, digg it, hugg it, blog about it, post it on Facebook, add us to your MySpace friends and prove that efilmcritic readers can create a hit. And visit and link to (official site), and check out our blog and listen to our podcast.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

I’d love to see this screen in Haida Gwaii.

Do you have an opinion on the issue of “A Film by (Insert Director Here)” ? Is this something you use? Many people collaborate to make a film yet simultaneously, the director is the final word on the production.

As a writer, I think it’s a lie. As someone who has now made a film, I know it’s a lie. On The Green Chain, I was writer/director/producer, had final cut and did the hundred other jobs people do to get indie films made and I still feel a bit uncomfortable with the credit.

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the Cineplex Scotiabank Megaplex?

If someone’s in the mood for a popcorn movie, I just hope it’s a good popcorn movie and that they’ll check out The Green Chain tomorrow.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

Have fun -- and choose a story you truly love, because it’s going to take at least five times longer than you’re expecting it to, so make sure it’s worth all that time.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

Casablanca. Why? Dude, it’s Casablanca…

LISTEN TO A MP3 (Free download!)[br] from The Green Chain by clicking HERE (Right Click/Save as)

-- Second photo by Jason Whyte, for use on only --

The 2007 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival runs from September 27th to October 12th. Hundreds of films from all over the world are being screened over 15 intense, film loving days. For more information on this film, when it is scheduled to screen and information on many other films this year, point your browser to – Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 10/01/07 15:25:53
last updated: 10/04/07 04:41:42
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