Meet Toronto’s Film Producer, Byron Martin

What does X-Men, The Carbon Rush, and The Boondock Saints all have in common? The answer is Byron Martin, film producer extraordinaire whose projects also include The Chronicles of Riddick, Death Race (with Jason Statham), Resident Evil: Afterlife, and even two American Pie movies.

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I met this multitalented Canadian while in university when I was auditing a film class. We have similar spelling of last names, and I recall the professor kept mispronouncing my last name as Byron’s!

Backstage, photo credit by: Byron Martin
Backstage, photo credit by: Byron Martin

But his cool demeanor has always impressed me and I am feeling very fortunate to speak with him again as he is coming out of a year-long high.  His 30 episode series, BACKSTAGE, will be airing  on the Family Channel this year, and is rumoured to have been sold to Disney.  And his incredible upcoming documentary, Tomorrow’s Power,  just finished filming in Germany.  The crew will be departing for Gaza for 3 more weeks of filming, followed by another shoot in Colombia, which will then complete the footage of this new feature.  Can we say, he is busy?

(Photo Credit by Byron Martin)
(Photo Credit by Byron Martin)

StreetsNBeats: Hi Byron.  Thank you so very much for this interview.  Please tell us how you got started in the television and film industry? 

Byron Martin: I started early in my teens, working in television in Edmonton, Canada, operating cameras, did sound, wrote/produced commercials, and later hosted a number of shows. I took the Radio and Television Arts program at NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology), during those very productive years, I really hit my stride! I was the first non-film student to work at the National Film Board NW Studio during a summer internship. I did my 2nd year placement at the independent broadcaster, ITV, producing a number of projects.

Toronto, Photo Credit by Byron Martin
Toronto, Photo Credit by Byron Martin

StreetsNBeats: Wow, that is quite the background, Byron.  So, what brought you to Toronto?

Byron Martin: Well, I went to film school at Ryerson. To this day, I don’t know who to thank from there because I was accepted directly into the second year (skipping a year ahead) of the film program due to my production background, at NAIT and my time at the University of Alberta. I have always felt that attending film school has provided me with an invaluable foundation and opportunities to collaborate with filmmakers, all in a proactive environment where you watch films, talk about films, and make films.

Behind the Scenes of 'Tactical Jokers", Photo Credit by Byron Martin
Behind the Scenes of ‘Tactical Jokers”, Photo Credit by Byron Martin

StreetsNBeats:  Ryerson is an awesome university. The educator in me just loves that you are thanking them! What was your experience like in film school?

Byron Martin: I flourished at Ryerson, IMAX even sent me to England (one student from every film school in the world was selected to attend the 1st IMAX Symposium in Bradford, England). I was awarded the Norman Jewison Filmmaker Award in my 3rd and 4th years for my projects. My 3rd year film, ADDICTION, with writer/director Dylan Reade, won the Great Canadian Shorts contest. I later sold the film to the President of Coca-Cola to be used as a presentation piece at a Beckers Convenience Stores renewal.

My graduate film, EVIL UNDERGROUND with writer/director Dwight Friesen, won the Best Film Award from the CBC! Ryerson sent the film to compete in the student Academy Awards and it was subsequently screened in festivals around the world.

Panic Button USA, Turner Broadcasting Corporation, Photo Credit by Byron Martin
Panic Button USA, Turner Broadcasting Corporation, Photo Credit by Byron Martin

StreetsNBeats: Wow, that ‘s an impressive history…simply, incredible. Since you are bringing up the American industries, what do you think of the Canadian film industry?

Byron Martin: I moved to Toronto in the mid 80s and ironically not a single film company that was in business then is still in business today. This is a cyclical industry, which relies on various integral structures.

In Canada, we have two industries really – a Canadian filmmaking industry and a service business. Over the last number of years, both have flourished at incredible rates, allowing us to build infrastructure, world-class crews, and to create a standard of labour tax credits that has been copied in various American states. To date, our filmmakers and our actors are celebrated around the world and our films have garnered international recognition. Yet, we are still in a type of infancy which demands growth and real opportunity.

Behind the Scenes of George Romero’s Land of the Dead (2004), Photo Credit by Byron Martin
Behind the Scenes of George Romero’s Land of the Dead (2004), Photo Credit by Byron Martin

StreetsNBeats: Thank you for sharing that.  Since you are speaking of opportunity and success, I need to ask, what achievements are you most proud of and why?

Byron Martin: I have a lot of great memories over the last of thirty years. Over my career, I have had an opportunity to work on a number of great projects and with some really talented people. Projects that come to mind which are dear to my heart are The Ref, Simon Birch, and X-Men.  The producers, the cast, the crew, all of them had a real dynamic synchronicity which was realized onscreen making them heartfelt projects.

I produced two AMERICAN PIE movies, projects with a tremendous cast and crew. It was like summer camp filled with lifelong memories and everlasting friendships. Titanica, directed by Stephen Low of Montreal, was the first and only IMAX feature film ever made.

Sophia Loren
Sophia Loren

I managed the Gala Theatre for the Toronto International Film Festival for three years and recall walking down the red carpet with Sophia Loren.

Resident Evil: Afterlife 3D is the most successful Canadian feature film in our history. When the Queen of England wanted to see the making of a 3D film at Pinewood Studios, I was asked to produce the event.  At the end, when asked how she enjoyed it, the Queen smiled and uttered one word, “Fantastic!”

Recently, I produced both the Canadian and U.S. versions of PANIC BUTTON, a series we shot with over 40 cameras in 8 different formats.  It was a real creative challenge that everyone worked very hard to capture all of the dynamic elements.

The Carbon Rush
The Carbon Rush

And I am very proud of writer/director Amy Miller’s work on The Carbon Rush.  Daryl Hannah and Karine Vanasse narrated the film for us. To date, we’ve screened at over 80 Festivals all over the world and have garnered numerous awards and various Opening/Closing Night Gala screenings.  There is also THE CARBON RUSH book, which was released by Red Deer Press earlier last year.

Ice Storm 2013, Toronto, Canada: By Byron Martin
Ice Storm 2013, Toronto, Canada: By Byron Martin

StreetsNBeats: Byron, you had me at the Queen of England! Let’s switchover to your photography. I understand you take a lot of behind the scenes photos.  What is your camera of choice when shooting films?

Byron Martin: Thanks! I have a number of cameras that I like to use. My primary go to DSLR camera is a Nikon D800E, but I also shoot with my GoPro Hero, as well as my iPad Air and iPhone. Before I purchased new digital gear, I shot with my Nikon F4S.

I always prefer to shoot on film but as the world has evolved it is far too difficult to shoot on film, process and then manipulate imagery. As we have all moved into the digital space, the crossover applications and ability to turnover outputs is so much quicker now. I prefer to shoot with my Nikkor manual lenses for most of my work. I own a 24mm, 35mm, and my favourite lens is a Nikon 105mm f/2.0D AF . On far to few occasions, I have pulled out my 300mm f/2.8 ED!

When I purchased my D800E, I thought I’d better purchase a few AF lenses to to balance out my lens ratio needs, so I purchased a AF-S 24-70mm ED 1.2 to add to the collection along with the fantastic AF-S 70-200mm ED GII 1.2. Over the years I have taken thousands of stills on set, all serving as a lasting memory of the numerous projects I have had the honour to work.

Toronto Harbour, Photo Credit by Byron Martin
Toronto Harbour, Photo Credit by Byron Martin

StreetsNBeats: You have had so successful projects and so many years to develop your skills, what advice to you have for someone getting started?

Byron Martin: I always advocate for young people to go to film school. Film is a language and craft and you have to learn why, and how to make movies.  It is a collaborate cooperative and you have to understand what everyone does, and how to utilize the talents of the crew.  I see a lot of same mistakes that first time filmmakers make, because they haven’t recognized the skills they could have learned in film school.  Their formative understanding is missing.

I appreciate that this is not an option for everyone however. Whether you decide to go to film school or not, be proactive and never be afraid to ask, and never stop learning.  Seek opportunities that expand your current spectrum and be an asset to everyone that hires you. And communicate!  You can always tell if a Production Assistant will last in the business because of his/her attitude and approach.  So rarely do people call the production office before they return to see if anything has come up, changed, or has to be done.  It is a simple thing really, but so few do it. When they do it without asking, you know you have a keeper!

Toronto's Queen's Quay, Photo Credit by Byron Martin
Toronto’s Queen’s Quay, Photo Credit by Byron Martin

StreetsNBeats: Byron, before we go, I KNOW you must have keep one…What are your top 5 things on your bucket list?

Byron Martin:

  1. I always wanted to take my mother home to Czechoslovakia but sadly she passed in 2009 so I will have to fulfill that quest alone.
  2. To be in Jerusalem during Christmas would be a magical, spiritual experience.
  3. To volunteer at an African lion safari and hangout with cats all day.
  4. Spend two weeks at Anse Chastanet in St. Lucia.
  5. Get my pilot’s license.

StreetsNBeats: Hey, I want my pilot’s license, too! Maybe that will be our next class together? Thank you so much, Byron. I really enjoyed learning more about the work side of you!

Byron Martin: My pleasure!

I finish writing this interview up with a smile. There is something really cool about seeing movies with a producer of film & checking out his flicks. If you haven’t done so yet, put it on your own bucket list! The only advise that I have to offer is please let them pick the movie!  If you would like to follow Byron, you can catch him at his Twitter.

Celebrating Artists Everywhere…

à bientôt,

scubagal

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