Jason Miller – Film In The Bay of Quinte
Journalist’s Passion for Telling Real Stories Leads to Filmmaking
As a youngster growing up in Jamaica, Jason Miller was obsessed with the so-called ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ his grandmother would watch on TV, acting out the scenes including all the dialogue. Being enchanted and excited by a good story led to his passion for becoming a storyteller himself, but someone who wanted to tell real-life stories, be they good, bad or ugly.
Miller moved to Canada and studied journalism, eventually entering the newspaper business, first in Toronto and more recently in Belleville, Ontario, where he currently lives. In the back of his mind, the power of seeing a story on a big or small screen was still something that intrigued him and led to a secondary storytelling endeavour – that of documentary filmmaker.
The Path To Documentaries
While living and working in Toronto, Miller formed a friendship and eventually a creative partnership with filmmaker/director Richard Obeng – a collaboration, currently called Chasing Mayhem Productions that has led to several public service videos, music videos and a highly-acclaimed feature length documentary, broadcast in 2017 on TVO, called Some Sort of Judas.
“I first met Rich in 2011 and he just said he wanted to make a few projects, start off with some shorts, do a few commercials and it kind of blossomed from there. We did that and started making a few dollars for a little while. And I remember one day deciding that I wanted to do something more feature-y, something more serious and realistic. I realized I wanted to make a documentary film. We started in 2013 to try and come up with some ideas and do some research and see what would make for a great film in Toronto,” Miller explained.
“We started to find a few true crime related issues that were ongoing, and obviously as black filmmakers we wanted to touch on matters that were provocative, that would have a drive for some social change, that could take on issues that were often swept under the rug.”
Cobbling together the idea and creative plan for a story involving murder, friendship and betrayal is one thing, but Miller soon came to understand, as Obeng already did as a more experienced filmmaker, that there was a serious business side to the endeavour. Logistics, funding and budgets, forging partnerships, hiring the right technical crew – all are sometimes make or break components of filmmaking.
It took a lot of trial and error, a lot of legwork, and a lot of on-the-job learning, but the project was completed in 2016 and after its TVO run, is now being shopped to other distributors.
Besides his writing chops and keen sense of what makes for a compelling story, which Miller had in abundance, thanks to his decade-long career as a newspaper journalist, first in Toronto and now in Belleville with the Intelligencer, Miller has evolved into a film producer out of necessity. But he has found the experience to offer up its own rewards and challenges, and that skills with finances and deal making are as important as knowing about composition, lights, sound, and script writing.
He added that he and Obeng are methodically doing all the due diligence to create an actual branded production house so that they can scale up their burgeoning filmmaking enterprise.
“Rich and I are working on some business dealings. We’re working with our lawyers to forge what is going to become our company and our brand moving forward. But these things take time and we don’t want to rush out and say, ‘well this is our name, and this is our logo and website, this is what we do,’ until we are 100 per cent confident that we’re launching the brand with several strong projects to stand on and an actual vision to go alongside an actual business plan that will last. In the film business it’s not what you say you’re going to be, but what you actually do that gives you the credit and the credibility,” he said.
“We want to come out of the gates with people seeing that we are going to be a company that is to be reckoned with for many years to come. The number one thing is you want to make sure you have some capital, you want to make sure you have some credit. You have to establish not just the creative vision but the financial vision. You have to know what your risk level is, and all the detailed costs involved in any project. Rich and I have been working together as business partners, informally, for several years. So, we understand what our abilities are and what we are able to do, we have achieved things together and we know we can do business because with Some Sort of Judas we proved we can bring a $300,000 project to fruition.
“There are a lot of legal arrangements about who runs what and who does what, and even if you have informal relationships and friendships, you need to get those legal things in place and make sure everybody is comfortable with the language and comfortable with everything.”
Film In The Bay of Quinte
From his position on the inside of the local film and television production sector, and from his position as an observer of the community at large through his newspaper gig, Miller is cognizant of the great potential the Bay of Quinte region has for becoming a centre of film and television production excellence.
“When you see the variety of people involved in terms of gender and age and experience level and diversity in terms of skill level and what people are able to do, there is great room for growth, and it’s very promising. We have people who have spent decades in the business who are lending a helping hand and sharing what they know with the next generation, like myself, who are still figuring out how to get on track and how to get where we want to go. Sometimes that is the most useful part of the process, to have someone to kind of guide you along when you need it and how to avoid some of the pitfalls that are encountered,” he said.
“It’s very promising to see this group continuing to grow and thrive and seeing the raw potential there. And when you have enthusiastic people like QuinteVation behind the process, it only makes for better outcomes. And I am more than impressed with the level of talent and level of experience of filmmakers locally. There is definitely a lot that can be harnessed from that for the betterment of the filmmaking sector, but also for the region as a whole. It can become a real economic driver.”
The Business End
Although Miller has already accomplished a great deal as a filmmaker and has many exciting irons in the fire for future projects, he reiterates the importance of being methodical and ensuring all the varied aspects of the business side of the ledger get taken care of properly, rather than simply allowing his passion for storytelling to push him beyond his means.
“If you look at even some small films, there are always a multitude of partners and many films now have six production companies and seven or eight executive producers working on them. So, it’s quite interesting and we’re just trying to learn as much as we can and grow and scale up the right way. Because you can make one film for $5,000 and you can make one for $500 million. There really is no limit to it. You can do whatever you want, whatever you can afford, you can do in the film business,” he said.
“But it’s all about how well you can set up your business and the investment and the revenue you can generate from the whole thing as well. Right now, we’re sort of at the starving artist stage and we’re trying to figure out a way we can actually put food on the table and tell our significant others that it’s actually a worthwhile endeavour. It’s all coming together, and we’re having a lot of fun doing it. It’s great to be entrepreneurs and it’s challenging but also rewarding because everything you make is yours. Having that sense of ownership of your hard work is very inspiring.”