Whistler Film Festival 2010 Interview – “Playing With Blocks” director Thomas Balzer

By Jason Whyte
Posted 12/04/10 06:15:26

“Playing with Blocks is about doing something you love and a genuine reminder by three genuine guys that there are still wonders and awes in our world. The story follows
three grown men who still build snowmen, snowmen that are massive and magnificent.
These three friends self fund their annual international adventure in Snowcarving and invite us through their global gauntlet as they compete against the best in the world.” Director Thomas Balzer on the film “Playing With Blocks” which is screening at this year’s Whistler Film Festival (December 1-5).

Is this your first film in the Whistler Film Festival? (Or the first film you have) Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the Whistler for the screening?

This is my first film in the Whistler Film Festival, and I will most certainly be in attendance. Playing with Blocks is my first feature length documentary and we had our world premiere in England at Film Stock. I love Film Festivals, because you have the chance to see movies you probably will never see any where else, and chances are one or two will be absolute gems.

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?

I am 32 and am from the Yukon Territory, Canada. I have been in the film industry for 7 years, in both independent and professional productions. I love producing and directing, as well as 1st assistant directing. I am also in production of my next feature documentary the working title Under the Chitenji: The Warm Heart of Africa. I have always wanted to make films, because I have always been inspired by them and want to inspire others.

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

When I grow up I want to be a hockey player, but I can’t skate, so I thought I could be the first pro player that used a walker on the ice.

How did this project come to fruition?

I wanted to make a film that was cool and inspiring. So why not make a film about people that inspired me. I wrote the treatment, raised the money, planned the production, shot a big portion, was at every edit session, chose the music, submit to festivals, and what’s next…

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

Filming in sub forty temperatures is appalling, absolutely appalling. Combining the elements with a non existing budget made this film extremely challenging but also one of the best adventures of my life. I got really sick after returning from Japan, and during the major time lapse in the film I would set up the camera and would pass out for an hour, every hour for three days. Quebec almost destroyed us, Ross (Producer) got 2nd degree frost bite on his feet, and Dean (cinematographer) twisted his back something fierce. One of our cameras also took a hit. The view finder was rather harmlessly knocked one day, but due to the severe temperatures, exploded into shards. We were forced to build a cover for the LCD from a straw box and black tape. That little contraption actually made it the rest of the shoot.

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 met Dean Williams, the cinematographer, at school and had collaborated on many projects before Playing with Blocks so it was just a natural evolution in our professional relationship. We chose the Panasonic DVX for the bulk of the shoot, for among many reasons we had one donated to the project. We also had some pick ups the following summer that we shot with the HVX and the Italian section was captured on get this…a Digi 8. Yes I told you our budget was non-existent.

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?

At our world premiere in England, I had an 8 year old boy and an 80 year old woman both approach me after a screening to tell me the intended on becoming snow carvers. Absolute magic.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

My inspiration comes from people that don’t over compromise their passion, and go after projects they want. I think Leon Gast’s “When We Were Kings” is one of the best documentaries ever. I must also say that Sam Dunn’s “Metal: A Head Bangers Journey” was extremely influential for this film. I mean he went out and made a movie about what he loved, not what the masses might buy. So, I in turn made a film that I hope shows inspiration and importance of doing things you love period.

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

Critical/Media is really important, for it’s part of our social mechanism and fabric. Be it a massive conglomerate or word of mouth, the process is interconnected and that is how we share our worlds and opinions.

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

The Arts Centre in Whitehorse, Yukon here in Canada.

What would you say or do to someone who talks or uses their cell phone during a movie?

We should just simply have someone design theatres that disable cell phones within the auditorium. Or the game we play on set: If your phone goes off during a take you have to buy everyone there a beer.

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?

Go out and film something, anything. Volunteer on small indie sets and get in the process.

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Whistler Film Festival. For show information, tickets and for other general information on films and events, point your browser to the official website HERE

Be sure to follow instant happenings of Whistler Film Festival on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a Tweetphoto or two. #whisfilmfest or @whisfilmfest are the official hashtags.

Jason Whyte,

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