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Get Acquainted With A Hollywood Director; Joshua Butler

Joshua Butler interview

British Columbia’s film industry provides jobs and money, but there’s another thing coming north from Hollywood; talent. American film and television director, editor, producer and screenwriter, Joshua Butler, is part of that talent pool and a frequent visitor to Vancouver.

Known for directing multiple episodes on shows like The Vampire Diaries (CW) and The Following (FOX), Butler was also an executive producer on A Season on the Brink (2002) which was ESPN’s first original film. More recently he’s worked on Vancouver-productions like The Secret Circle (CW) and The Magicians (Syfy).

What is your impression of Vancouver, having worked in the city on various projects?

Vancouver is one of my favorite—I’ll spell it “favourite” out of my deep respect for British Columbia—cities in the world.  And it’s an honor (honour?) to have been able to work there off and on since the turn of the millennium.  I always feel like Vancouver (and Canada in general) has found a kind of cultural zen.  Whenever I step off the plane and make it through customs, I instantly feel a calm come over me, a calm which allows me to focus on being creative.

What was your approach to directing an episode of Vancouver-filmed The Magicians for SyFy Channel?

The Magicians is a series based on a wonderful set of books by Lev Grossman and brilliantly adapted for the SyFy Channel by Sera Gamble and John McNamara.  I like to call the show “Sex, Drugs and Magic” because it so honestly addresses coming-of-age in a way that’s unique to science fiction and fantasy.  As a director, I approached the magic the same way the writers did, as a metaphor for what it feels like to be “special” and “different” from the rest of the world.


With 11-episodes under your belt on The Vampire Diaries, what makes a show like that a hit?

The Vampire Diaries is another example of a book series that was brilliantly adapted for television.  It is also another example of a show that uses the sci-fi/fantasy genre to help us understand what it means to be human.  It’s a hit because the vampires and all manner of supernatural creatures in Mystic Falls are going through the challenges we all face: growing up, falling in love, falling out of love, figuring out who we are, finding our place in the world, etc.  Universal themes and relatable characters bring viewers back week-to-week…or in this new day and age, inspire them to take a sick day and binge-watch their favorite show.


What was your goal in founding Iceblink Films and co-founding Kinetic Pictures?

In Hollywood, most people are living lives of permanent free-lance.  As a director, the best leverage you have in securing your next job is when you have control of the material you want to direct.  My goal in founding Kinetic Pictures with producing partner Chet Fenster was to find timely books, articles, news items and whatever stories were in the public consciousness, and adapt them for film or television.  We had several projects optioned and made and even though Chet and I parted ways, we are still close friends and developing exciting new projects together.  Iceblink Films is my current company, which allows me to produce for other talented filmmakers while writing and directing my own work.


Is there one lesson that stands out from studying at the University of Southern California’s Film School?

Larry Auerbach, whose official title is Associate Dean of Industry Relations, meets with students one-on-one when they are at the brink of graduating from USC’s film program.  After years of diligence and good grades, I was expecting my meeting with Larry to be one in which we talked about how I could use my cinematic talents as a way to get my first job out of school.  Instead, Larry said just one magic word to me: “Network”.  At the time, I was convinced that looking back on my film school days, the first thing I’d remember would be the hard work I put into my student projects.  But instead I think of Larry and that one lesson he taught me.  No matter how much ability one has as a filmmaker, the way to find employment in this industry is through networking, i.e. cultivating relationships with as many people as possible who just might have the power to hire you someday.


Advice for aspiring directors, producers and screenwriters?

Make films.  There’s no excuse not to.  We now have 4K cameras in our iPhones and editing suites that come pre-installed on our laptops.  This is the era of democratized moviemaking and we should all take advantage of it.


What are your favourite things to do in Vancouver between takes?

Stroll the Seawall. Eat at Chambar, L’Abbatoir, Vij’s, JOEY Burrard or Blue Water Café.  Catch a movie at Tinseltown.  Looking forward to the day when I’m seeing my own movie at Tinseltown.


Photo credit: Brant Brogan
Interview by Amar Mirchandani @amarmirch

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