Steven N. Bray
Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design
Degree: Media Arts
Year of graduation: 2002
All my life I’ve tried to chase my two passions—travelling and movies. At the age of ten, my parents brought home a clunky, oversized VHS camcorder and I was hooked. I started to realize that by becoming a filmmaker I may be able to blend the best of both worlds, and, who knows, maybe make some serious cash along the way.
I entered Sheridan’s Media Arts Program in September 1999—hungry for experience and eager to take full advantage of this opportunity. The workload seemed heavy, the students were an eclectic bunch, the teachers were knowledgeable, and we all quickly became best friends.
One of those instant friends was Sarorn Sim. When one of our first-year major assignments came up, we had to choose the subject of a five-minute documentary. Staying up all night, brainstorming—Sarorn finally came up with the whopper: “I’ve always wanted to tell the story of my parent’s long battle during the Khmer Rouge reign of genocide in 1970s Cambodia and their struggle to raise me as a Cambodian-Canadian youth in Canada.”
We shot the seven-minute film Forgotten Past: Beyond Cambodia and it started everything. Winning the TVO Telefest Award for Best Documentary in 2000, we decided we weren’t done exploring the subject. We pitched the idea of a one-hour version of the film, but this time we’d be taking Sheridan gear, time off school, and heading into completely uncharted student waters. Following the success of Forgotten Past, and much persistence on our end, we were given permission to shoot. In spring of 2001, we found ourselves off to rural Cambodia in what would become a huge turning point of my career, and my life. For six weeks we shot everything in that country.
We returned right at the end of second year, with 50 hours of footage and no clear way to make a cohesive story out of it. We brought two people onto our team. The first was Vladimir Kabelik, a documentary teacher and guru who gave us loads of guidance on story telling, and crafting the days of footage we had into a compelling story, and an Advanced Film and TV student named Richie Mehta.
Our third year came and went, and we were buzzing from the energy and experience of the past few years. I Am Khmer opened up a lot of doors to the industry, and got us involved with some of the big players at CTV, CBC and Global. Realising that I still wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, nor how to get there, I took a job back in post-production, and started reading (some might say consuming) material on lighting, directing, editing, producing.
Over the next three years, I produced many short films (while holding full-time jobs on the side), and began breaking into the film festival and market scene. We ended up selling most of our short films to CBC and other broadcasters around the world, including the films Yellowbird, System of Units and Amal.
In September 2005, we took home a $10,000 prize for the Telefilm Pitch This competition. The event, part of the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival, allows six short-listed teams to get on stage in front of 300 industry members and pitch your idea in six minutes. Our story seemed to really hit home, and after winning the award, all doors were suddenly wide open, including ones with money behind them. We spent one year travelling back and forth to India, casting, looking for even more money (this aspect of the job never ends), and developing the very best in ourselves.
The story of the production of my first feature film Amal is too lengthy for this article. Deciding to shoot a first feature film in New Delhi, India, with $1.15 million of someone else’s money, seven investors, a distributor, government involvement, insurance and completion bonds, more than 40 locations, a cast of hundreds, and a crew consisting of 30 Canadians and 35 Indians was far-and-beyond the classification of difficult. AMAL - Sometimes the poorest of men are the richest
Having completed one of my life-long goals, I like to reflect back on the Sheridan years. When they said it’s tough, develop a thick skin, and don’t do it for the money, they were so right. The film and TV industry could easily wear one down if you let it, and only hard work, tireless persistence and personal sacrifice, coupled with a drive to be the very best at what you do is the key to survival.
Current Occupation: Film/TV, Producer/Director - Poor Man's Productions Ltd.