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Lucky Number Twelve: Catching Up with Ben Bergeron and Colin Ziraldo from Twelve Tales Films

About a year ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Twelve Tales founding filmmakers: Ben Bergeron and Colin Ziraldo, who are also co-owners of Hot Shoe Productions, an Ottawa based production company and youth mentorship hub. I had the honour of catching up with them before their screening last weekend at the Mayfair Theatre this Saturday April 13th 2024. With some help from Sol One Productions, Twelve Tales will debut their twelve month anthology project! But so much more has changed since we last heard from the duo…

We’ve seen the classic actor turned director but what about the other way around? 

Their ninth movie titled Shadows of Deceit by Owen Carson, features Ben Bergeron as the main character. This interesting choice led to Ben discovering something exciting about himself, and something even more exciting for the trajectory of his direction. 

BEN BERGERON: I think stepping in front of the camera really gave me a lot of insight into when to pull moments of my own experience into the performance, this really helped me in working with actors, because it gets me to ask them more questions about their own experiences, that I can use and have them apply when building a performance. Acting forced me to become vulnerable, which helped me empathise with the vulnerability a lot of my own actors will feel, and allowed me to be more vulnerable when directing.

While on-set of Veronique Nolin’s short, Ben was able to receive a lot of support as well as questions actors might have for directors from his fellow filmmaker and friend. These questions include: What is the fundamental moral nature of this character and what will they do/not do in moral situations? What kind of intonation and tone of voice best serves the character and story? Where do I need to put my eyeline?

By taking himself out of his comfort zone, Ben was able to learn how to better communicate with his actors and thus improve on his direction. He was also successful in learning more about himself. This discovery led to Ben taking on the narration that ties their twelve short films together into a tightly packaged anthology. Earlier this month the duo was featured on an episode of Pause it for Me, an Ottawa based podcast. There they briefly described finding what the unifying thread is between all their twelve shorts. 

However, Ben isn’t the only one discovering new things about himself and his craft. Colin Ziraldo has also noticed a change within himself as a filmmaker and individual at large. 

Colin mentions on the Pause It For Me podcast, as well as in conversation, that up until recently he had no interest in direction. Shooting a short film a month for an entire year introduced a number of new challenges resulting in the duo swapping roles. 

COLIN ZIRALDO: My advice on how things should go, which I do think is somewhat appropriate for a director of photography, because the actors are in front of the camera, and, there's certain energy and momentum that needs to happen. And sometimes, tailoring a shot in a specific way can help it enhance that direction.

On one occasion, Ben fell severely ill during a shoot and took a moment to regain his strengths. With time still ticking, Colin had to move forward and direct without Ben momentarily. The result? Let’s hear it from Colin himself…

CZ: What ended up kind of happening out of necessity was a lot of co-direction happened but from that I actually feel like I have kind of gained a love of direction…when before, I was very much under the opinion that it was something that didn't bring me joy, it wasn't my passion…But now I actually feel like it was a really good experience, and I got a lot of value out of it…now I think I might actually potentially pursue directing more. I have some projects in mind, and I feel like I'm gonna do that with more gusto because of the enjoyment I had co-directing with them. 

Colin’s analogy for the relationship between direction, cinematography, and the actors compares filmmaking to a choreographed dance.

CZ: There's very much a dance in between the actors and the camera. It's like the tango, you have to do it in a way where you don't step on each other's feet, but if you synchronise effectively, you can create a beautiful piece of art out of it. You can be the best technical shooter in the world, but without a storytelling sensibility, you won't be able to make the right technical decisions to serve the story being told in the moment.

On another occasion, Ben had to shoot their eighth film in Thunder Bay on his own. This experience left him feeling burnt out to the extent where he began questioning if it was worth it to continue. 

CZ: There was two moments in the year where we burnt ourselves out completely and there was kind of like ‘oh, no are we going to continue this?’ But then, conveniently, we had also planned having a time challenge right after this…Both these time challenges, even though they were technically harder…both movies rejuvenated us…it's like, you gotta write the film, you gotta shoot the film, you gotta post the film all within that 48 h, which is a challenge. Now, funny enough, it's that both time challenges in hindsight is what kind of reinvigorated us into film making.

Feeling stuck? Follow Colin’s advice and be sure to sign up to the 48 Hour Film Project! Registration opens this August: Click Here for the Toronto sign up page, and Click Here for the Ottawa sign up page. Sol One has got Ottawa covered for all things film, be sure to keep up to date with their schedule, including the 48h time challenge on their page here.

CZ: At whatever stage in your career you're at. Do a time challenge, because it's just filmmaking in the raw. And sometimes you can pull really good things out of yourself because you're forced to make a decision and that's why…there's a character name, Dirk Sanchez, because it's like this character has to have a name and I just throw that out kind of but it stuck, and it's like one of our personal favourite characters… I feel like that character exists just due to it being a time challenge. 

On that note and other changes throughout the year, Ben had some exciting news to share.

BB: 48 h Toronto coming up in November, and the other component 48 h, Ottawa coming up in November. I got approved recently to be a city producer for it. So I've kind of taken my experience doing time challenges and now we're going to be developing one in Ottawa and I'm taking the lead on that.

Speaking of limitations, Ben had some lovely commentary to make on the topic when I asked him if he would be interested in shooting something dogma 95 style.

BB: I think that'd be interesting to explore some other limiting factors in the future and in fact the limitation I’m imposing on myself, for our feature film, is while in the scripting process… and the whole production, basically, I decided that the whole movie has to be from our main characters perspective. So we're never in a scene unless he's in it…that means, we have to treat the script a certain way to get it to

certain places. But it's net benefiting the film a lot.

Besides the challenge of creating a short film once a month, Colin and Ben had some additional limiting factors such as: using a different cast per project, and using a different camera per project. However, the latter of the two did not work out how the boys intended. 

CZ: Starting out, the fundamentals are really important, but once you've ingrained that into yourself as instinct, your work going forward is all about texture and picking the tools that best communicates the story and feeling you want to elicit. It's essential to understand how cameras work, but once that becomes a part of you, it becomes about building a style.

The camera and lens combination we ended up landing on is the Panasonic S1H with Canon FD vintage lenses. 

We've decided [that this is] the configuration we want to go off of, so now, we're just going to use a different set of lenses each time to try and see what has the best optical quality performance of what we want. Also, it's like quality versus like amount of time…because some lenses are easier to shoot on than others. But then, going off of that, we have a very solid foundation of what we're going to be using for the future and that was really important.

Some of the benefits of the camera include: high-quality recording codecs that allow for no compromise on image quality, in-body image stabilisation that makes shooting handheld much easier and smoother, and it's high-end imaging sensor that can capture a high-dynamic range image in a variety of lighting scenarios. 

Some of the benefits of the lenses are the smooth highlight rolloff, manual aperture rings, and soft, vintage image that performs very well when paired with a sharp, modern sensor.

Around their eighth film they had run out of cameras and turned to experimenting with lenses. Amending the challenge actually benefited the two, because there came a point where introducing a new camera was doing a disservice to their storytelling. Amending the challenge also allowed them to achieve the combination of equipment and lenses they desire for their feature film. This brings us to the most exciting change! Ben and Colin are officially on their way to shooting a feature film but how did Twelve Tales help them get there? 

BB: We kept going bigger and bigger…That's how we ended up, you know, making 5D Pool, which was really expensive and was like the biggest movie. It has a fight scene in it, it has the most people in it, and we built a set all by ourselves. And then that was like kind of like, ‘oh, man! That burned us out,’ and the movie kind of suffered for it. …from that we kind of took away the lesson of like instead of going bigger with each film, what if we went deeper with each film and kind of tried to explore character more and tell more impactful stories. 

Much like their feature film, Ben and Colin began to build engaging characters for specific actors. Similar to Good Time by the Safdie Brothers, Benjamin Safdie and Joshua Safdie respectively, in which the film was specifically written and designed for lead actor, Robert Pattinson. Safdie brother or not…it’s still important to know each element that it takes to create a film personally, Colin reiterates this sentiment. 

CZ: You need to understand all these areas and having, like an instinct for these things is really important. So becoming a director of photography will make you better at communicating with the director of photography, or even coming up with ideas, because everything is troubleshooting. Everything is trying to find a solution to resolve this story. And I really feel like you, you know, becoming more proficient in All these areas just through practice and more time on these things. I feel like this makes all of us better at what we do…

Now fully prepared to take on their biggest project yet, Ben expands on the process of first drafting this film five years ago to the present, twelve short films later. 

BB: Yeah. So I would say, it is a completely different film than what I wrote in 2019… I think there was a level of maturity as a filmmaker I needed to be ready to tell the story in this format. So I'm happy I got there honestly there's things in the original script I'm like, that's kind of immature and I wanna tell something more sincere than this. So I think there was like a level of growth that needed to happen to benefit that script.

How would you describe the feature in a breath?

BB: The short form version of the feature is called Cassandra but basically, it's about a young man with autism who's nonverbal, he doesn't speak, but he sings and he plays music. His support worker leaves, and it's kind of the reconciliation of him discovering that he can go on without her, and what his life looks like that way. Tt's very personal. You know I was a support worker…So it's very much inspired by my own experience, not based on any particular experience, but inspired definitely by my work in that sector… one of the goals is with autistic representation and media, there's not a lot of involvement from people with autism. So you know, one of my goals on this [feature] is really to heavily involve Clayton Ducharme. He's co-writing, he's doing the music. He's the lead actor as well, and you know he's bringing a lot of authenticity to it that I don't think would be there otherwise

Co-writing this feature project with Clayton Ducharme has been essential for the authenticity of the piece. Throughout practising their storytelling skills on twelve short films, Ben began inviting lead actors for input on screenwriting and directorial factors. Overall the collaborative environment has been immediately rewarding. 

BB: I pulled co-writers in who are also acting in it so we will really get to shape their characters together, which is really exciting. So my friends, David and Clayton and I would be meeting up every week to write the script and work through it. So we each kind of wrote a few scenes. You know we revised all our scenes together. We now have the fifth draft, which is finally ready to kind of like show people their table read and go from there, we are fully cast, we have a set of tentative locations and we’re aiming to go to cameras in May.

So I guess we’ll be catching up with Colin and Ben sometime around May next year to hear about the incredible adventure they’ve had working on their feature film. Until then, keep up to date with Ben and Colin at Hot Shoe Productions or Sol One Arts. Ben and Colin’s company Hot Shoe Productions will also be partnering with Sol One Arts this May 11th for the Ottawa Youth Film Festival-don’t be shy and submit!  :) Happy Filming

BB: You know a big shout out to Sol One Arts for coming on board to distribute and support our films and fund our screening. You know, they're a really great youth arts organisation in Ottawa, and it’s kind of their big launch too. So we've really gotten to expand and add the marketing component to our team which has really helped. We're getting posters and things and that's all thanks to Sol One!

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