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Nova Scotia Expat: From Dartmouth to Hollywood

Monday, June 30, 2014

Twilight co-producer and Nova Scotia expat, Bill Bannerman, shares what it really takes to get into the film business and what Nova Scotia has that just can’t be matched. 

ConnectNS network member Bill Bannerman discovered a passion for feature film production from the first time he held a camera on a Dartmouth sidewalk. He studied in Toronto, moved to L.A., and worked tirelessly to join the ranks of Hollywood’s in-demand directors and producers. He's played key roles on the sets of a long list of feature film productions including Unforgiven, the Twilight Saga Franchise and Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters. We managed to catch up to Bill Bannerman on the set of Sony Pictures Entertainment's 'Goosebumps'.

When did you decide you were interested in a career in film?

I knew what I wanted to do when I was 12. When I was living in Creighton Park, I played an extra in a film that a kid in my neighborhood was making. At one point I got my hands on the camera and it was a very cathartic moment. I was captivated by what the camera could do – not from a technical aspect, but in terms of story-telling. That camera opened up a world I’d never encountered. I didn’t know movie cameras had zoom lenses; when I started playing with that zoom lens, wow! What that meant for framing a story - it was the coolest thing. Literally, the next day I was at the library looking up film programs and schools across the country and in the US. I just loved the way movies told a narrative and I loved the whole movie-going experience. Those are some of my favorite memories: jumping on the ferry with a group of friends, sitting in the Paramount on Barrington. It’s a very embracing environment. I figured it out right away: ‘hey, you can do this for the rest of your life? It’s not even work, it’s play.’

When you came back to Dartmouth High to speak to students, you offered to help them find work in the industry. Do you think someone will take you up on your offer?
The film industry is really, really competitive. When I was in my last year at Dartmouth High, I was accepted into the York University Film program. They took 50 kids and every year they cut the bottom half. There were 13 people in my graduating class. Two of us are in the business now. It’s a tough world; I just never gave up. I’d do anything to get on a set – my first job was pulling weeds, but that got me in the door. I worked hard and I took advantage of every single opportunity I found. One relationship led to another and another, and, fortunately, I was able to climb the ladder quickly because I was hungry. I never took no for an answer, which is something I learned from my parents. You know, I find that in general Canadians in general are very respectful. That’s our nature. But when 500 people are vying for the same job, you can’t just ease off and say 'You go ahead and take it, I’ll get the next one..'  Getting into this business is hard, so you have to seize the day, give it all your energy, all your heart, and make a stellar contribution every time.

When I went back to speak to the kids, I said I never had the opportunity of knowing anyone in the industry. I never even knew an industry existed back in the ‘70s. I joined the Nova Scotia Film Society and went to Dalhousie every weekend to watch foreign films all through high school, which was a great education, but it wasn’t a foot in the door. I wanted those kids to know that if they had the heart and were willing to fight their way to Los Angeles, then I’m there and I’ll do what I can to get them that job. But they’ve got to find me and get the work legally. I wanted to give them an opening that I never had.
What’s the most valuable thing

Nova Scotia offers the film industry today?
Nova Scotia has environments that just can’t be matched. And it’s an easy in-out port for transportation, for communication, and that’s one of the strongest assets in this industry.  Studios are always thinking of the financial spreadsheet, so the greatest thing you can offer is a location that’s a no-brainer. I grew up visiting grandparents in Pictou and traveling up through Cape Breton. I’ve scoured this province and I know where the hidden gems are. We’ve got easy access to coastal beaches, apple blossoms in the Valley, spectacular tides in the Bay of Fundy, Cape Breton coastlines – you won’t find those coastlines anywhere else. Film audiences now are so educated that you can’t cheat the look and feel of an environment, and we’re always striving to find the very best opportunities to package that texture. You can get that look and texture here with limited effort.

We’ve been getting better at selling it over the past 10-15 years, but we can do more. I know directors that keep coming back:  they love the environment, the fresh, new approach, the wonderful attitude, and the crews are great - totally engaged in the process. That needs to magnify. You could sell Halifax and Dartmouth as an eastside metropolis for a big narrative action film. Why not Ironman 4 or Avengers 3 or Ghostbusters? I’ve seen a lot of locations in Nova Scotia that could handle the extravagance of a Lord of the Rings. It’s not just fishermen and hiking movies. The environmental diversity is really a great plus for this province.

Some of Bannerman's most recent as well as notable films include:

Goosebumps (2015)
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 & 2 (2011, 2012)
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010)
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
A Perfect World (1994)
Unforgiven (1993)
Alive (1993)
Police Academy 3 & 4 (1986, 1987)

Bill Bannerman is a member of the ConnectNS network of proud Nova Scotians, alumni and expats from over 40 countries. Get involved.