Interview with: Shannon Blouin
Written by: Stephanie Liu
I met Shannon in grade seven, when we were both bright-eyed and full of hopes for the future. Now, she’s made her first steps into the world of film: one that she’s dreamed of for almost her whole life. I’ve always wanted to sit down with her and had a good talk about her thoughts and motivations behind her deep love for film. I have a personal interest for her films and projects, both because she’s my friend, and because I admire them and wish to collaborate with her on future professional projects.
Hi, Shannon. Thanks for accepting my interview today.
Thanks for having me!
So what are your current screenwriting or film projects?
I’m currently producing and writing a new web series that’s based around a production company. It’s in the style of, um, kind of like Parks and Rec. A little bit of The Office. Like a character comedy.
Like a mockumentary?
A little bit of a mockumentary. Still trying to figure out the general style of things, but it’s going well.
So, is it going to be with the team that you made Arkera Productions with, or a whole new team, or is it going to be just you?
Arkera Productions has been dissolved. We no longer work together. But my new production company, Arkera Entertainment, is so far run solely by me. I also have a bunch of people that I usually work with. Right now, I’m actually producing another web series that is educational and based around Gunpla. So it’s building little Gundam suits and stuff. It’ll be called ‘G-Weapon Workshop’, so our main focus is on Gundams and Gunpla. Not so much other hobby stuff, like military models and stuff. My dad is really into them, and I had my team over to talk to him about building techniques and what he does with his models. Model building is pretty universal, so any techniques that you learn on our channel can be used in any kind of building.
So it’s going to be on Youtube, just like your old videos, right?
Yes, it’s going to be on Youtube, and it’ll also be hosted on our website.
Oh! Okay, cool. So in the past, you were really gung-ho about being a police officer, but now you’re focused on your film career. So could you tell me what changed?
That’s kind of a funny story; it’s a long story, too. As a kid, I always wanted to be in the film industry. I was always behind the camera as a kid; this is almost like a natural path for me. And then in grade nine, there was ‘Kids to Parents’ Work Day’. You remember that, right?
Oh yeah, I remember that.
So in grade nine, I went to the Vancouver Police Department, and we had a big seminar about everything, and I was like, “Holy shit, this is so cool.” It was the most interesting thing ever. We got to ride police boats, we got to see all the police dogs jumping on people and doing their training exercises … it was just about everything. We got to walk through the Downtown Eastside. It wasn’t your usual ‘kids to work’ experience. It was incredible. Honestly, there’s still some times when I’m like, “If this whole film thing doesn’t work out, I’m going to go back to policing, because that is badass.” But anyways, I was really gung-ho about that, and then my first year of university, I thought that criminology was super boring.
At Kwantlen, right?
Kwantlen was a fine school, but I wasn’t suited for that kind of lifestyle, where it’s very … criminology and sociology. I’m a very creative person, and I kind of found myself trying to get back to film-making and stuff. My friend, who was going to Capilano at the time, invited me to be on set to act in one of her little shorts, and I agreed. Amazingly enough, it probably changed my life, because I was like, “Wow, this is way more fun than, you know, working on criminology term papers, so maybe I should switch back to film-making”, so I did. A few months later, I applied to Cap, I got in, and I started working as an independent producer, making commercials and stuff. It worked out really well for me.
So would you consider incorporating what you’ve learned at the police seminars in your films? Like Brooklyn Nine Nine.
Yes, the dream is to have a sitcom that is like Brooklyn Nine Nine. Basically, Brooklyn Nine Nine. I hate you, Andy Samberg, for taking my great ideas, but no, honestly, I love that show. That is the dream: to make a Hot Fuzz kind of feature film or TV series. But that’s pretty hard to do, because that needs a really big budget. Now, I’m focusing on this web series that’s a little easier to write because it’s not cop stuff, and so it’s almost like practice for me, because I want the police stuff to be top-notch. But I’ve always directed action as well, so I will have no problem doing action scenes.
That’s cool. When you work as a sound operator or a PA, you’re usually on American shows. You’ve worked on Arrow, Evil Men, and Once Upon a Time. So as someone who primarily works on American shows filmed in Vancouver, what are your thoughts on the Vancouver film and TV industry. Do you think there’s a strong presence here, or are we constantly in American TV’s shadow?
I think we definitely are in American TV’s shadow. However, I think it’s getting better for Canada because of new media, the ability to distribute yourself with Youtube, and the ability to fund yourself with Kickstarter. Canadians have more ways than ever to make their content, but it’s going to be a while before we see Canadian big budget productions similar to Arrow. Continuum was set and made in Vancouver, and it was made by Vancouver people, and that was an amazing show. I’m not really sure what happened to it; I think it got cancelled.
I don’t know, I don’t see ads for it anymore.
I thoroughly enjoyed the first season; I don’t really remember the second season. But that was really interesting because it was set in Vancouver, made by Vancouver people, and it was actually really popular. So slowly but surely, they’re [Canadian film] making their way forward. Especially with Netflix. You can get Continuum on Netflix. I worked on a TV show called Olympus last year and that was a close production between Canada and the UK, so it had no American money in it.
Is Olympus on television, or is it a webseries?
It’s going to be released in April, I think. It’s going to be a legit television series on SyFy. It is a smaller network and it was definitely a pretty low-budget film. They did a lot of work to make it look really good, and they had a pretty good production designer. The production designer recently worked with Tim Burton, so we had a few people on there that were legit. The producer had made Stargate.
Stargate! Stargate was like …
That was in the 90s. I knew the DP that had worked on it for like nine seasons. It’s interesting. For independent people, there are so many more ways to get fundraising. Not just through Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but also through Telus Storyhive. It’s where you pitch an idea to Telus, and the community chooses who gets $10,000 to fund their project. I personally know four different people who have gotten it, so $40,000 worth of Telus’ money have gone into my friends’ pockets to make their own films, and Telus had no creative control over them. That’s amazing. Most of the time when you hear ‘money’, there’s usually a producer in there meddling around, but you’ve got full creative freedom with these.
You helped edit a story that was ultimately chosen for Storyhive, so would you be interested in writing one and pitching it?
Yeah, I mean, what Telus used to do was ten-minute shorts, so you would make ten-minute shorts with $10,000, but now they’re making a web series. So everyone’s getting $10,000 to make a pilot, and they would compete against each other for the grand prize of $50,000, which would be given to the winner to use to make a season. $50,000 sounds like a lot, but it is not; it’s so small for a production, like you can barely pay people with that. I’m hoping to be able to pitch my story, just to see if I can get the $10,000.
So you mentioned to me before that you prefer walking around downtown or sitting in cafes when you’re writing. Personally, I can’t do that; I would get so distracted. What part of the city do you find the most inspiring, and why?
I think I’m just inspired by life, and the thing is, especially when you’re writing a comedy, sometimes I’ll see something happen in the street and I’ll get inspired by it, and something will just pop into my mind that is hilarious and I’m like I gotta put that shit in the script somehow, or tuck it away for another script. There’s so much more to be inspired by rather than sitting in my room where there’s nothing happening, and I’m ultimately just going to end up on Reddit or surfing through the Internet. I’m just inspired by life and there’s just a lot of it downtown.
Scott Pilgrim was set in Toronto, wasn’t it? And a lot of Canadian stories set in Canada are always set in either the wilderness, or Ontario, or even Quebec. There’s very few that are set in Vancouver, so when you write, do you often incorporate the city of Vancouver in your writing?
Usually, because then it’s easier to at least film it. You don’t have to hide Vancouver so much. It’s way easier to be able to showcase the city that you’re filming in, because then you don’t have to spend money on set decorations so much, or VFX to edit out Vancouver street signs. But, I mean, I’m very tired of the ‘New York’, ‘Toronto’, ‘LA’ settings, and I think Vancouver has its own vibe, and of course, I’m super biased: I love Vancouver. I do. I like to write in Vancouver.
You know Roosterteeth and their ‘Rage Quit’ videos, right?
And you know Jontron videos, right? He uses video games as the images, and he talks over them. So would you be interested in a project where you do something similar to what Jontron or ‘Rage Quit’ does?
What those guys do…they’re just reviews of video games or movies. And sometimes, it’s just an analysis as well. I feel that I’m trying to get better at reviewing, but I’m not sure if I have a unique enough opinion on certain things to really be able to educate people. And especially the way that Jontron does it, with his great sense of humour and excellent editing, so he can pace his videos really well. And I’ve seen this in other videos where they try to do reviews or analysis where they just don’t really get the humour or pacing, and it kind of feels off. For me, I know so many people who do that, so I think it’s a little too late to get on that boat, and I wouldn’t want to anyways, because it’s really hard to do. Editing most things takes about six to seventy hours. Apparently the writing part is really fun, and so is the editing, but it’s just time-consuming, and people get mad at you if you don’t upload in a month. I personally would never want to make a video game or movie review video. I love listening and watching them, but I would never want to make them.
But would you want to do a Let’s Play video or video series in the future? Like, we did one. And you have a Twitch account where you live-stream video games sometimes, right?
Yeah, we tried one in the past. I find it easier to livestream because then I have instant feedback from people who are watching me, and I feel that I can be ‘on’ more. These aren’t going to be ten-minute long videos, but just an hour-long stream where I’m just hanging out and doing whatever. “Let’s Play” is also too late to get on the train; even live-streaming, it’s a little too late to get on the bandwagon. Nobody’s really looking for new Let’s Players; it’s just a sea full of people with a little window in the corner of the screen screaming and laughing. So I’m not eager to join that.
When we took film class together in high school … I may be wrong, but you seemed only interested in operating the camera or directing or editing. You didn’t seem that interested, in my opinion, in the writing aspect. But now you seem a lot more interested in writing for film, so what prompted you to start writing for film?
I think it’s especially been in the last year or so. I took a really hard writing class at Capilano in second year, but it made me think a lot. I always feel that I had a good sense of story and how everything works. It’s apparent that there are people out there who can’t write but are writing, so I thought, ‘why aren’t I writing?’ It’s hard to find a script out there that you’re passionate about, and you really want to film. That’s why I keep tellling you to write something; I really want to film it. I read a lot of books and a lot of people who have written TV shows have been mentoring me, and it’s actually really interesting. And now that I understand all the basics, essentials, and the more advanced things, I feel like things are starting to mesh together. It’s actually super fun to create your world.
I know! It’s so fun.
Yeah! I thoroughly enjoy it, and it’s cathartic, too.
Yeah, it is! Well, when you write, do you write in a linear style, or non-linear style? Like, you know, the fourth season of Arrested Development, it was one story but through multiple perspectives? Would you be interested in writing in that style?
That’ll be quite interesting; it would be a fun exercise. But the thing about that is, you really need to know your characters because if you just have four random people that you’ve just made up and don’t really know how they’d react, it would be very hard to do. You wouldn’t be able to do that in a first season; it worked in season 4 of Arrested Development because we all know those characters, and we all know exactly what they would say in each and every situation. But I think that, for me, it’s a very advanced writing, and it would be fun to try it out. But ultimately, it’s really hard to do, and do well.
If you don’t do it well, it’s narmy. It’s bad.
Right. I definitely like writing in a linear fashion.
So of all the shows you’ve worked on, which one is your favourite or the most memorable?
Being the sound assistant on Olympus was so much fun. I had an amazing time. We had really great directors. I loved all of them; they were really nice. We had Amanda Tapping, who was on Stargate and Sanctuary, and it was really cool to see a female director, and she directed three episodes. I loved the guys I was working with in the sound department; the mixer and the boom op were really great, and they taught me a lot. Something I want to mention that’s super important is that if you want to work in the film industry, especially as a producer or director, you should learn a technical skill, because you should be able to understand how the set works, and how a production works, and how post-production works. Because if you don’t know those things, how can you properly hire people, and how can you properly tell if work is good or not? I know so much about sound and camera now that I can point out who on those teams shouldn’t be there, and I think that’s really important as a producer to be able to home in on that. I know so many producers that are renders, or actors, and they don’t want to pick up a skill, and I think that’s a huge waste of potential. Even if you just want to be a lamp op, do it! You’ll learn so much about lighting, and lighting is so important. People just don’t really realize that it’s so integral. That’s just what I wanted to mention.
Thank you so much for your time!