Justine Stevens is a graduate of the British Columbia Institute of Technology. She works in many avenues behind the camera. Her recent credits include Suck It Up, Everfall, and Running With Violet. Having worked on many commercials and corporate videos in the past Justine is very excited to foray more into the narrative side of directing. Following up her web series The Girls Guide, Justine is currently developing a new show Made With Love, and various short films.
Who, or what inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I always loved filming things with my parent's camcorder growing up, but I never thought about what that meant. It wasn't until I took film studies in Grade 10 however that I realized it was what I wanted to peruse for my career. On our first day of class, we were given a camera and a blue dodge and we were told we had to make a one minute one shot movie. Now, that movie is by no means great, but it got my mind working in a way it never had before and it sparked my creativity and got me excited. I haven’t looked back since.
What film can you not live without and why?
I’m going to cheat here and say all of Quentin Tarantino’s films. I own them in one big box set so I can get away with that right? I love his style, the diversity in films/genres he’s done and my love of his movies started with Kill Bill and seeing a woman kick ass. I think that was really powerful for me. Watching his films has taught me to take risks, to have fun playing with genres and to really create your own style.
What film do you currently find yourself watching ad naseum? And what about it keeps bringing you back?
I’ve recently been trying to get out of the habit of rewatching movies I’ve seen before and to instead push myself to broaden my film knowledge; however, the one movie I keep coming back to is Short Term 12 starring Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr. I love character driven movies and this movie captures a diverse range of stories that I find extremely compelling. I also love the raw feeling it has in the way it was filmed with lots of hand-held and very desaturated colours. I find the filmmaking gets out of the way and it lets the story be front and center.
Has a modern film impacted you lately? If so, what film, and how?
I have to go off book on this one and choose a show instead of a film. I’ve always watched a lot of TV but I can’t remember the last time a show had an impact on me like HBO’s Big Little Lies. I think the show has brilliant actors in it and Jean-Marc Vallee does an incredible job directing. It looks beautiful and that brilliantly juxtaposes with all of the dark secrets the characters are hiding. It felt like such a real portrayal of peoples personal lives and in my opinion, shone a light on domestic abuse that touched me in a way that very few other shows or films have done.
Is there a saying, code or decree you live by as a filmmaker?
Really what drives me and something I’m trying to make conscious choices about when I make films is to tell authentic stories. Audiences are smart, and if you’re telling a story you don’t actually know about and haven’t at least consulted someone who knows what it’s like to go through that, they will pick up on that.
What word of filmmaking advice would you give to your younger self?
I feel like I’m still my younger self when it comes to filmmaking. That might not make any sense…I’m just not sure I’m far enough along in my career to look back and give myself advice. I’m still learning to navigate the industry.
What filmmaker has formed how you approach your own films and why?
I think the biggest influence on me recently has been working with Canadian Cinematographer, Guy Godfree. He has such an unselfish approach to his cinematography and that’s made me realize the environment I want to create for actors on set in my directing. Guy tries to get the technical aspects of filmmaking out of the way as much as he can so the actors and directors have time to really work a scene. I’ve seen first hand how much this helps get wonderful performances out of actors and it’s something I strive to replicate on set.
How do you continue to educate yourself as a filmmaker?
I try to watch as many films as I can, including a lot of shorts on the internet and I think that’s one of the best ways to continue to educate myself. Quentin Tarantino’s famous quote is “When people ask me if I went to film school I tell them no, I went to films.” And while I did go to film school, I feel like watching a broad range of films is the best way for me to keep learning.
I also love watching behind the scenes footage from my favourite films/shows. I love watching how they got the shots I love and I especially enjoy it when you can hear how the director is interacting with the actors. I find you can pick up lots of little tricks watching the behind the scenes stuff.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome as a filmmaker?
I’d say my biggest challenge that I’ve had to overcome (and will always be working to overcome) is funding. As everyone knows, filmmaking isn't cheap and I’ve had a lack of funding stop multiple projects. I’m learning as I go, there are so many complexities to it, and hopefully, in teaming up with some great people will have more success!
What’s great about making films in Canada?
I’m from Alberta and I think my favourite thing about making films there is the incredible Canadian landscapes that are so close to home. The Rocky Mountains are one of my favourite places to be and capturing that on film is exciting and special to me. It’s not just the Rocky’s that are beautiful though, Canada has so many stunning landscapes and I think we are lucky that they are at our disposal.
What Canadian film inspires you?
I recently saw a short called Nonna at Slamdance this year and out of all of the films I’ve seen recently it has really stuck with me. It’s by Canadian writer/director Pascal Plante and it was really beautiful. It’s simple, it’s a Granddaughter spending an afternoon at her Grandmothers house and it showcases an incredible character, Nonna. It made me want to write characters as interesting and authentic as her.
What do you love about the art of filmmaking and why?
I feel like I’ve been repetitive, but I really just love telling stories and I think filmmaking is a beautiful way to do that. I appreciate how many stories I’ve been allowed to experience because I’ve watched other filmmakers films that I wouldn’t have gotten a window into otherwise.