‘Flankers’ dir. Justin Oakey

On the eve of a storm in rural Newfoundland, feuding fishermen are forced to set their conflicts aside when an emergency arises.

Writer-Director: Justin Oakey
Producers: James Vandewater & Justin Oakey
Cinematographer: James Klopko
Key Cast: Joel Thomas Hynes

C8: Where did the idea for Flankers come from and how long did it take you to write?

JO: The idea for Flankers, like all of my work, began with a series of true stories from the lives of my family and friends and then through the development process those stories intertwined and evolved into something a little more cinematic. The premise of feuding communities is something I grew up with, hearing about it all through my parents and their friends. It’s a conflict that is pretty common to rural Newfoundlanders in general, I’d say. These communities are the oldest settlements in North America, and some of these conflicts are just as old. This feuding existed in the original script, but shifting the perspective to be about the men’s livelihoods was inspired by some conversations I had with a close family friend (who was later one of our boat captains during the shoot). I like to shoot as chronologically as possible and take time to let the dialogue of every scene evolve as we go – I love improvisation, it’s an important tool in trying to develop something naturalistic.

C8: How did you go about casting the film and what were you looking for in your actors?

JO: It was pretty important for me to find actors that are able to exist naturally in the world of the story. I strive for authenticity in both settings and characters, and like anything, there will be people who belong in these remote locations, and then there are people who act like they belong. We did some casting calls, but most of the people who ended up in the film were recommended through friends and colleagues - people that ultimately had their own connections to the material. It was also important that the cast could comfortably improvise their way through the scenes, making it their own, but without losing the tone.

C8: What was the biggest obstacle during the shoot and how did you overcome it?

JO: It went off without a hitch, honestly - other than the normal shag-ups you’d find on any production. Though we were shooting in a pretty remote area, it was populated with my family and close family friends, so there was no end to the help and hospitality. For me, the biggest challenge was probably coordinating so much going on in relatively small spaces – such as five characters on a wharf, the house fire, the shed brawl. It was definitely a little difficult to figure out how to establish the geography of everything.

C8: You co-produced the film with James Vandewater. Did you find it difficult directing and producing at the same time?

JO: Not particularly. I think I’ve been some kind of a producer on every project I’ve directed to date. Not because I need to be in total control or anything, but often the projects I direct are saturated in things familiar to me, so it’s only natural for me to take on a producer role. I’d like to think I’m a pretty good with multitasking. James makes it easy on me, too.

C8: What did you shoot on and what was the reasoning behind this choice?

JO: We shot on a RED camera. While it does look beautiful there was also the practicality of its look in low-light situations, the kit’s availability to us on a tight budget, and its size (the entire film was more or less handheld). I wish there was a more poetic reason, but when you work with a talented person behind the camera you can get something beautiful with any camera.

C8: How did you work with cinematographer James Klopko to achieve your aesthetic vision for the film?

JO: This was the second short Klopko and I had collaborated on. Besides the fact that I can be pretty detailed about what I want, James is also very good at taking in the situation for himself and bringing it together. He’s always been really supportive and excited about shooting from the hip, improvising a lot, keeping small crews, working in remote locations, and so on.

He’s an extremely talented guy. His most recent feature, Sleeping Giant, is absolutely gorgeous. We’re going to be collaborating on my first feature this winter, and I couldn’t be more excited.

C8: How did you fund the short? Did you receive support from any filmmaking organisations?

JO: I received a federal arts grant, which covered most of our production. Later the National Film Board stepped in with some post-production funds, through one of their grant programs. Not to mention all the in-kind and deferrals.

C8: The film had a good run on the festival circuit. Do you think film festivals are still the best place for emerging filmmakers to showcase their work

JO: We had a little run, yeah. It’s still going, too - we have screenings coming up right until winter. I think it’s great that festivals allow emerging filmmakers to get their work in front of a wide variety of people; especially industry people are larger festivals. It’s an interesting environment to get to know, too. But that being said, it’s kind of hard to navigate. Not everything about festivals is merit-based or fair or transparent, which can be really frustrating. In the end I think it’s equally important to make your work available online, at least eventually. I’m over the moon when a festival invites us to screen, but we threw the short online last month and it received a Vimeo Staff Pick and that’s easily the biggest and broadest audience it’ll ever get.

C8: What, in your opinion, makes for a good collaboration?

JO: It’s all about trust. When I collaborate with the photographer, or the editor, or the composer, it’s about them trusting my efforts and me trusting theirs. I know I’ve been collaborating with the right people because everything becomes shorthand very quickly. For example, with Klopko, I feel like he knows how I’d want to shoot a scene before I even say it, and I know how he’d want to approach it, too. The editor, Michael Pierro, was brought in the eleventh hour and I had never worked with him before. He was more or less coming in blind and did a first cut before we even spoke, but after a short discussion we were on the same page and he understood the tone like he had been along for the whole production.

C8: What’s next for Justin Oakey?

JO: Well, the fall and winter seasons are approaching and I always look forward to how much time I’m able to dedicate to hunting and fishing and all that. In terms of work, I’ll be going to camera on my first feature film, Riverhead, in early January. We’ve got our funding in order, now we’re just preparing. It’s an atmospheric drama that follows the division of a rural Newfoundland town after a violent crime. It’s allowing me to dip into the history of Catholic-Protestant tensions in rural Newfoundland, as well as some aspects of our culture rarely explored in media. It’s going to have a lot of real people, real hunting, and real traditions - all blended in with the cinematic and scripted. It’ll be an interesting project, I’d say. Other than that, I’m working away on some new feature ideas, a short or two, some prose. I like to be flat out. Steady go.