Toronto is a movie-centric city with a thriving film industry that employs over 25,000 members of the city’s population””most of them not in front of the camera. So why is it that we only ever seem to hear about high profile people like directors or actors?
In this new column, we’ll talk to some of the Toronto film industry’s unsung heroes: the people slogging away behind the scenes to help make your life just a little more entertaining.
TVO’s Saturday Night at the Movies (SNAM) has become a veritable institution for movie-lovers all across Ontario. It began in 1974 with the lovable Elwy Yost playing host to a double bill of Hollywood classics. In recent years, the show has updated its format to include more contemporary fare and host Thom Ernst carries on Yost’s legacy. The show airs two films that are thematically connected as well as a SNAM-produced documentary called “The Interviews”, which presents a panel of filmmakers, authors, critics, and experts talking about that evening’s subject matter.
Working away backstage at TVO is Saturday Night at the Movies Program Researcher Alex Huls, who also blogs about film on the show’s website. Huls began his path to SNAM as an English major at York University. After taking an online course called “Hollywood: Old & New” that was being offered in partnership with SNAM, Huls altered his major and eventually went on to complete a Master’s Degree in Film Studies. When an internship opened up at SNAM, he jumped at the opportunity and became a full-time employee four years ago.
As part of the SNAM team, Huls researches and coordinates guests as well as the material that goes into producing the show. “Along the way I help do the behind-the-scenes stuff to ensure everything goes to air, and also””thanks to very collaborative producers “”get the chance to contribute programming suggestions for upcoming seasons,” Huls explains.
Essentially, it’s a dream job for a cinephile and a definite way to answer all of those “what do you do with a film degree?” questions. “What I like best about my job is that every day is about movies””watching them, researching them, talking or writing about them. I also get to delve into the largest filmmaker interview database in the world on a regular basis and sometimes even meet some of those filmmakers.”
Huls continues, “I also just love being part of an incredibly unique show that supports long-form discussions about movies and their significance, both on a thematic level and on a greater social level. Ultimately it’s about looking at the role movies play in our lives, and that’s exactly what we do.”
A movie buff to the core, Huls can easily talk film for hours whether it be about his favourite poster ( Raiders of the Lost Ark takes the crown) or his favourite movie set in Toronto, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World ( ” If I hadn’t already thought Edgar Wright was awesome, his choice to not hide Toronto but put it front and centre would have sealed the deal.”)
When talking specifically about film in Toronto, Huls enjoys the wealth of rep cinemas offered in the city, “whether it’s seeing Shaun of the Dead / Hot Fuzz back-to-back or Orson Welles’ The Stranger at The Underground, Troll 2 at the Bloor or Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm at [TIFF Bell] Lightbox, I love that we have frequent opportunities to see some of the great””and not-so-great””movies on the big screen.”
Huls has also always imagined that a Before Sunrise / Before Sunset -style walk-and-fall-in-love movie would work well set in Toronto, with neighbourhoods like Kensington Market or The Danforth showcased, “I [would] feel all sorts of gooey Torontonian pride watching our fair city be so openly displayed.”
5 Questions – Lightning Round
Atom Egoyan or Bruce McDonald? The only McDonald movie I’ve seen is This Movie is Broken , and the only Egoyans I’ve seen are The Sweet Hereafter , Felicia’s Journey and Where the Truth Lies . Based on numbers alone, I think Egoyan wins by default.
Zombies or Vampires? My gut reaction is zombies, mostly because I’m a huge post-apocalyptic fiction nut, and zombies usually go hand-in-hand with the end of the world.
George Clooney or Cary Grant? This is a tough one, but at the end of the day my Classic Hollywood bias comes through, because when I think Cary Grant I can’t help think of [films like] His Girl Friday or The Philadelphia Story and smile.
David Cronenberg or David Lynch? I appreciate how Lynch creates an utterly unique cinematic experience, but I find Cronenberg’s explorations of sex and violence way more my speed. Call me lazy or dense, but I prefer my brain stimulated, not pretzeled.
Movie snack: sweet or savoury? Savoury. [When I was younger] I generated a reputation for single-handedly eating a large popcorn every time I saw a movie in theatres. With adult inconveniences like budgets and healthier eating it happens less often but that doesn’t mean I won’t still have the odd delicious popcorn dinner while taking in a weekday movie!
Saturday Night at the Movies airs Saturday nights at 8pm on TVO.