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A Film-Makers Dozen: An Interview with Ben Bergeron and Colin Ziraldo from Twelve Tales Films

Ben Bergeron and Colin Ziraldo from Twelve Tales Films are a film-making duo based in Ottawa, Ontario. The two have taken on the year-long challenge of producing a short film once a month, hence their name Twelve Tales Films. During the day, their talented faces can also be spotted at HotShoe Productions, a social enterprise started up by Ben himself. However, when evening falls, their excellence can be found either at Ottawa’s monthly Kino Film Festival or preparing for it.

Way back when, Ben was Kino’s volunteer projectionist and also happens to be one of their original founding members. When 2020 came around, he had decided to retire from the role and take on new aspirations inspired by the event’s host, Vincent Valentino, to quote: “but I saw what Vince was doing with it. Vince and I got to talking at Digi 60 and he was like, "Yeah, you should come out every month, we want people, we want to build this community here," and so that kind of motivated me to start putting them into Kino. And one thing I always liked about Kino when I was first doing it too, was like it motivated me to make a film in a certain period of time.”

As it turns out, the two were set on debuting their films at Kino from the get go. Similarly, Colin encourages beginner film-makers to find film related events like Kino, even online film festivals, as long as they have that deadline,”'cause that's huge to get things done.” He reiterates how crucial a deadline can be for the wandering minds of creative folk.

“'Cause you'd be surprised, like if you have a goal in mind and it's like, if I don't get it done by this date, like it's not happening.” - Colin Ziraldo

Harsh deadlines centred around events, despite the occasional 16 hour turnaround, have taught the boys to let go and make certain sacrifices for their visions. Ben has stated the following: “I think that doing 12 films has been good because oftentimes you can get caught up re-editing and re-editing a film and working on it again and again and again. But with [Twelve Tales] we can't dwell on the last film 'cause we gotta make another one now.” However, this does not stop the two from making additional edits down the line post-submission.

So far, the pair has tackled polarising genres like drama, thriller, and comedy. Ben says it is part of his producing goals to cover as many genres as possible which is what makes Twelve Tales Films so captivating, each film is different.

We don't ever want to be repeating ourselves and doing the same kind of thing again. So for example, even though we did two comedies back to back, I think they have totally different tones. I think our film last month was a lot more slapstick, silly escalation of comedy. And I think this month we did something a bit more like sitcommy where it's more character driven. - Ben Bergeron

The two go above and beyond when it comes to different as they refuse to use the same lead actor in multiple films as well. In doing so Twelve Tales Films has successfully opened its arms and lenses to a wide variety of talent sprinkled across Ottawa. Another key component to Twelve Tales Films is their diverse use of equipment. A creative challenge for Colin, the pair agreed to use a different camera per short film.

We're doing all 12 of them on different cameras and the cameras we have access to aren't necessarily all, you know, top of the line Netflix approved cinema cameras. We have one of those, but the biggest thing is it's like we wanted to step up our game. We wanted to better ourselves and the best way of doing that is practice and repetition. But another part of that growth is stretching, putting challenges on ourselves. So one of the challenges that we imposed was a different camera every month. And that's a technical and creative challenge 'cause every camera has its own little flavour, right? And there's a different way of getting the best out of that camera. But I guess the biggest thing is one of the cameras that we plan to shoot on is like an old DVX 100 tape-based camera from the early 2000s. But the big thing is it's like every camera, especially a DVX, it has a look. And also it's like certain cameras you can only push so much. So it's like within the boundaries and challenges, how can we serve the story? And sometimes these fun little kinks of cameras and stuff like that, they end up really adding to the aesthetic and the story. And so we want to do a 1980s type film. And I feel like just the look of the DVX, it would really enhance the immersion of the story. - Colin Ziraldo

A sample of the cameras Ben and Colin have used for Twelve Tales include: the Blackmagic 4K, Blackmagic 6K Pro, S1H Panasonic and Sony a7 III. Due to the different sensor sizes the two can achieve a multitude of rich shots depending on the narrative focus. For their short, filmed April 2023 in a dentist's office, a minor technical hurdle required Colin to shoot on a zoom lens so they “could go wide and then punch in tight super quick.”

We actually did a bunch of shots on this ultra wide 14 to 24 millimetre lens. That was super new for me. So I've never shot on like a super wide lens before, like not fisheye, but almost fisheye. And just running with that and like really working in a tight space, man, that was cool. I've never had the opportunity, but I would definitely do it again. - Colin Ziraldo

Colin has also stated that it is common for people to shoot as fast as possible so they end up with blurry backgrounds but not many people go for deep focus. He went on to suggest early films like Citizen Kane take advantage of a deep depth of field welcoming everything, including the background into the shot.

But in this story that we shot, the kind of sitcom comedy thing, I feel like it really added to the story. I feel like if you did a shallow depth of field, it took away from what was happening. 'Cause like half the comedy of what's going on of the shenanigans in a dentist office is, well, I wanna see the dentist office in the background. - Colin Ziraldo

As much as Colin is the technical expert when it comes to cinematography, Ben is correspondingly technical in his directing, to quote:

I think one thing I've been kind of starting to scale on this year is how technical of a director do I wanna be? I think there's a sliding scale of how technical directors can be. So on the one extreme, you have people like George Clooney, who are more so an actor, who are more focused on the creative aspects and they might delegate the entire technical aspects of the production to their DP. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, you have people like James Cameron, who are like shooting the movies themselves or [are] manipulating every little technical detail down to the minute last little thing. So I'm finding I'm really starting to land somewhere in the middle, where I definitely want to focus on the technical aspects and I think it's important for directing. But I also, you know, I'm kind of trying to compartmentalise the really key technical aspects that a director needs to know and not worry so much about the technical aspects that are not as relevant. - Ben Bergeron

The pair works seamlessly together and oftentimes embrace a pitch format to consult and compromise on lighting and setup. Based on the effect Ben pitches, Colin will then recreate his best interpretation of said effect.

The way I look at directing and the director of photography, I honestly see it like a dance. It's like two partners doing the tango or whatever. But the thing is, you're both there to do a good dance, you know, you're having a good time, but you don't want to step on each other's feet, right? And it's like, maybe I'm throwing in a dance move or something like that. It's like, I have to make sure that my partner in this dance is okay with that, right? - Colin Ziraldo

Ben and Colin teach members of the community as much as they teach each other through the numerous workshops they have conducted both independently and collaboratively. Some advice they have to offer beginner film-makers is to make the most out of visual storytelling. Ben, who hates writing dialogue, considers film a visual medium, “so dialogue is like foregrounded noise.” Throughout his experience on set, Ben tends to drop as much dialogue as he can to depict the action visually, often asking himself “how can we make a movie that works with the sound off?” He has also commented on the immense value of silent films. Those who film themselves pursuing film either in secondary or postsecondary avenues can expect silent film assignments as introductory lessons to visual storytelling. However, when beginner film-makers find themselves getting comfortable with sound and colour, Colin recommends investing in a few basics like: a lavalier mic, any sort of wireless transmitter, a phone, and DaVinci Resolve.

What I would recommend, get a nice close microphone like a lavalier mic. You can buy any sort of wireless transmitter, even ones that hook into a phone. Get one of those so you have nice close audio on your actors or actor. Just shoot on iPhone or literally any phone, like that's good enough. Just be conscious of basic composition and stuff like that. And then just make the movie that's in your heart. And those are all the things you need to make a movie. Also, if you need an editing program, use DaVinci Resolve. Just make sure your computer has like 16 gigs of RAM. - Colin Ziraldo

First time film-makers who might feel hesitation or self-doubt could turn to friends as Colin did in many of his first films, he says “it was me and my friend James just running around and trying to get videos of stuff,” but ultimately he reminds listeners that repetition is the mother of learning and the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.

“I feel like that goes for literally any skill, but it's like, everybody started somewhere. Just try it out. And if it doesn't work the way that you want, just write some notes down and then try again, because why not?” - Colin Ziraldo

Ben shares similar sentiments with a personal anecdote:

I wanted to share this James Cameron quote that my mom wrote in a copy of Dr. Seuss's, Oh, the Places You'll Go, for me when I went off to college and I think it's really insightful and valuable. James Cameron said, "Pick up a camera, shoot something, no matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether you're friends and your sister star in it, put your name on it as director, now you're director. Everything after that, you're just negotiating your budget and your fee." And I really liked that, and I think that really ties into my own journey. - Ben Bergeron

Overall, support makes a huge difference. Ben and Colin agree that the partnership has brought them further than they would have gone alone.

“And have someone watching your back. I think that's really key because I don't think I would have been able to do this alone or with anyone else.” - Colin Ziraldo

Ben Bergeron and Colin Ziraldo share a common goal and that is to improve their film-making skills in their respective departments. This is partially the reason behind the successful pairing and increasingly impressive short films. Perfectly summarised by Ben himself: “it's a personal journey, we want to get better.”

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